Liam Fox today said no decision can be reached on the Irish border until a Brexit trade deal is struck.
Britain is under growing pressure to come up with a plan to keep a soft border in time for a crunch EU summit in two weeks times.
Brussels has refused to move on to trade talks until ‘sufficient progress’ on the border along with the Brexit divorce bill and citizens rights is made.
But the International Trade Secretary and leading Brexiteer laid the blame for the hold up at the door of Brussels.
He pointed out that any deal on a border cannot be thrashed out until trade and customs talks properly start.
Theresa May has insisted all of Britain is leaving the single market and the customs union when we quit the Brussels bloc – meaning what happens to the border is a thorny issue.
Liam Fox said the Irish borer issue will only be resolved by starting trade talks and looking at the broader issue of a customs union with the EU
Dublin has suggested Northern Ireland stay in the customs union – effectively pushing the hard border to the sea – and threatened to veto trade talks unless the UK caves to its demands.
But the PM and her DUP allies have ruled out the suggestion pointing out that any plan which effectively erects a border between Britons in Northern Ireland and the mainland would not be tolerated.
And this morning Mr Fox told Sky News’s Sunday with Niall Paterson today: ‘We’ve made very clear what the outline is of our interests, that we don’t want there to be a hard border but the UK Is going to be leaving the customs union and the single market.
‘We’ve always actually had exceptions for Ireland whether it’s in our voting rights, our rights of residence in the UK.
‘We’ve always accepted a certain asymmetry and that will have to be part of whatever agreement we come to with the EU.
‘But we can’t get a final answer to the Irish question until we get an idea of the end state and until we get into discussions with the EU on the end state that will be very difficult.
‘So the quicker we can do that the better and we’re still in the position where the EU doesn’t want to do that and we’re getting quite close now to 2018 when we’ll be talking about next year when we leave the EU.
‘So for all the reasosns, international as well as European, I think we have to get there faster than we’re doing at the present time.’
The EU summit on December 14 and 15 will decide whether we finally moves on to trade talks in the Brexit negotiations.
Mrs May has doubled Britain’s divorce bill to £40bn in a move to unblock the talks and move on to trade.
But the Irish border now seems the issue which threatens to hold up progress.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said his country would block the tart of trade discussions unless a plan was put forward.
Theresa May, pictured with her husband Philip at church this morning, is pushing for trade talks to be given the go ahead at an EU summit next month. But Dublin has threatened to veto a talks moving on unless a fuller plan on keeping a soft border is put forward
The DUP has warned Mrs May the idea of using the Irish Sea as a post-Brexit border between the rest of the UK is ‘non-negotiable’.
Nigel Dodds, who leads the DUP in Westminster, said any proposals to make special arrangements for Northern Ireland in Brexit talks should be taken off the table.
And their Northern Ireland leader Arlene Foster today revealed that the DUP has written to European leaders to say they will not accept a Brexit that puts customs barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Mrs Foster said she has written to the governments of the remaining 27 EU nations to outline her party’s red line.
She told delegates at Saturday’s conference in Belfast: ‘We want a sensible Brexit. A Brexit that works for Northern Ireland and for the United Kingdom.
‘However, we will not support any arrangements that create barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom or any suggestion that Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK, will have to mirror European regulations.’
One of the loudest cheers of the speech came when Mrs Foster rejected any suggestion Northern Ireland’s place within the UK was now at risk.
Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness, a member of the ruling Fine Gael party, told BBC’s Sunday Politics she was ‘troubled’ by Dr Fox’s comments.
She said: ‘I hope that the UK is not holding the Irish situation to ransom in these negotiations, it is far too serious and far too critical.’
Meanwhile, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has said that EU officials are not always honest about the progress being made in Brexit talks when they talk publicly.
She said that deals with Brussels are always a ‘five past midnight’ affairs as Eurocrats wait until the final minute to sign off.
But she said that behind the scenes progress is often being made – even if it is not communicated to the public.
Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr show she said: ‘The people who walk up to the microphones and speak to the home audience don’t always reflect the negotiation and the progress which is going on in the room.
‘When it comes to European negotiations it is always a five past midnight job.
She added: ‘I think it is really important that we get the transitional deal nailed down, that is not for the government that is for businesses so we know what they are ding next year and are able to plan.’