July 21, 2019 / 8:50 PM / a month ago

UK PM front-runner Boris Johnson says trade deal can break Brexit deadlock

FILE PHOTO: Boris Johnson, a leadership candidate for Britain's Conservative Party, leaves offices in central in London, Britain, July 19, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Boris Johnson, favored to become Britain’s new prime minister, said on Sunday the country could agree a free trade deal to leave the European Union that would remove the need for one of the more problematic parts of a previous agreement.

In his weekly column in The Telegraph newspaper, Johnson said technology could avoid having to stick to the so-called Northern Irish backstop, a part of an agreement with the EU that many lawmakers in Britain’s parliament reject.

The backstop, an insurance policy to ensure there will be no return to a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, has become one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the lengthy Brexit talks.

Johnson and his rival to become prime minister, Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt, have said the backstop needs to be removed from an agreement Prime Minister Theresa May secured with the EU - something, so far, neither side has agreed on a way to do.

Evoking what he called the “can do” spirit of the 1960s when the United States put a man on the moon, Johnson criticized those he called “technological pessimists” for doubting there were solutions to have checks on goods away from the border.

“There is abundant scope to find the solutions necessary - and they can and will be found, in the context of the Free Trade Agreement that we will negotiate with the EU ... after we have left on October 31,” he wrote in his column.

“We can come out of the EU on October 31, and yes, we certainly have the technology to do so. What we need now is the will and the drive.”

Earlier on Sunday, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney repeated that the EU would not change the divorce deal, or Withdrawal Agreement, which contains the backstop, saying if Britain tore it up, “we would both be in trouble”.

But he suggested a new UK prime minister could secure some changes to the political declaration on the future relationship between Britain and the EU that might avoid the need for the backstop.

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Peter Cooney

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