Ireland hopes backstop will be unnecessary

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Ireland wants a relationship between the UK and EU that makes the so-called backstop unnecessary, the country’s deputy prime minister has said.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Simon Coveney said he looked forward to working with the new UK prime minister, who takes office on Wednesday.

But he said the withdrawal agreement reached between the UK and the EU was not up for renegotiation.

He also said a no-deal Brexit would “devastate” Northern Ireland’s economy.

The backstop, included in the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May and the EU, is designed as an insurance policy to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

But the withdrawal agreement was rejected three times by MPs in the Commons, with the backstop a key sticking point among Brexiteers.

The two men vying to become the next prime minister, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, have said the backstop is “dead” – a position seen as increasing the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit.

In his article, Mr Coveney seeks to reassure MPs critical of the measure that he hopes it will not be necessary.

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Simon Coveney said a no-deal Brexit would devastate the Northern Irish economy

He also stressed that a no-deal Brexit would cause “huge damage to us all”.

“Clearly Northern Ireland is more at risk from a no-deal Brexit than any other part of these islands,” Mr Coveney writes.

“It is a unique place where people have a birthright to identify themselves as British or Irish or both.

“Its people did not vote for Brexit.

“A no-deal Brexit will devastate the Northern Irish economy with tariffs and rules that will fundamentally disrupt the all-island economy upon which so much progress has been built.”

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Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have said they would keep no deal on the table to strengthen negotiations

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary David Gauke has also reiterated his intentions to resign from government should the next prime minister pursue a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Gauke told the Sunday Times: “If the test of loyalty to stay in the cabinet is a commitment to support no-deal on October 31 – which, to be fair to him, Boris has consistently said – then that’s not something I’m prepared to sign up to.”

If MPs fail to support a Brexit deal agreed between UK and EU by 31 October, the legal default is to leave with no deal on that date.

Both contenders to be the next prime minister have said they want to leave on that date and renegotiate with the EU, leaving with a deal.

But Mr Hunt and Mr Johnson have also said they would keep the possibility of no deal on the table to strengthen negotiations, despite Parliament voting to rule the option out.

Mr Johnson has also refused to rule out suspending Parliament to force a no-deal Brexit through.

This week, MPs backed a bid to make it harder for a new prime minister to do this.

A majority of 41 approved the amendment, with four cabinet ministers, including Chancellor Philip Hammond, abstaining.

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