Irish finance minister says no-deal Brexit more likely

Tory leadership race

Tory leadership race

"If the new government tries to drive the United Kingdom over a cliff edge called no-deal Brexit, I will do everything I can to stop that happening", he said.

Hammond told CNBC television he did not want to make life hard for either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, the two contenders to replace Theresa May as prime minister on July 24.

Ireland's Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Ministry of Finance in Dublin, Ireland, February 5, 2018.

-A return to the idea of the backstop applying to Northern Ireland only, not to mainland Britain.

Sterling plunged to a 27-month low against the dollar on Tuesday as Johnson and Hunt vied for the hardest Brexit stance, trying to win over Conservative party members keen for a clean break with the EU.

A basic trade deal is broadly in line with Johnson's demands, but he and other Brexiteers are opposed to the backstop, fearing it would effectively keep the United Kingdom in a permanent customs union with the EU after Brexit. Polls suggest a majority of Britons oppose a no-deal Brexit.

But EU leaders want to move on from Brexit, and say much will depend on how Johnson - who has cast himself as Britain's Brexiteer-in-chief - acts if he becomes premier. The stalled deal negotiated by May and the European Union proposes that the transition period last until the end of 2020, with an option to extend it by one or two years. "And especially for a Brexiteer".

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In June, the Taoiseach (Irish prime minister), Leo Varadkar, said removing the backstop from the withdrawal agreement, would be "effectively the same as no deal".

However, this offer has already failed to convince the fractious United Kingdom parliament and the Brexit deal was defeated there two more times since.

To avoid a no-deal there are two options: a compromise on a revamped political declaration on future EU-UK ties that goes together with the exit treaty, or a delay.

The backstop is a way of maintaining a soft Irish border in the absence of other solutions.

But during a leadership debate Monday, front-runner Boris Johnson rejected "time limits or unilateral escape hatches or all these elaborate devices" and said "the problem is very fundamental".

An invisible border is crucial to the regional economy, and also underpins the peace process that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland.

The EU's national leaders are due to meet for their next scheduled summit in Brussels on October 17-18, exactly a fortnight before Britain's leave date.

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