European Commission president suggests Brexit deal is possible despite looming deadline

Jean-Claude Juncker says he has no attachment to contentious Irish backstop

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gives the thumbs up as he speaks during a debate on Brexit at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, northeastern France on September 18, 2019. / AFP / FREDERICK FLORIN
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A Brexit deal is possible and the Irish border backstop could be replaced if the British government came up with an alternative, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Thursday.

"I think we can have a deal," Mr Juncker told Sky News, without committing to odds.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has committed to taking the country out of the EU with or without a deal on October 31.

The backstop, an insurance policy to keep the Irish border open and free of border controls after Brexit, has so far proven to be the main stumbling block in the tortuous talks.

Mr Juncker said he did not have any special attachment to the backstop if another solution were found in talks with Mr Johnson.

"As far as the so-called alternative arrangements are concerned, allowing us and Britain to achieve the main objectives of the backstop, if the results are there, I don't care about the instrument," he said.

"If the objectives are met, all of them, then we don't need the backstop."

Sterling hit a two-month high against the dollar after Mr Juncker's comments, rising to $1.2546, its highest since July 19.

Mr Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, drew up the current withdrawal agreement with the EU but repeatedly failed to get British members of Parliament to back it, with the backstop a major sticking point.

Mrs May resigned this year. Under the backstop, she agreed that the UK would be tied to EU trading and other rules unless another solution was found for the Irish border issue.

London proposed to Brussels this month that common rules for checking animals and animal products could be established across the island of Ireland as part of an alternative to the backstop arrangement.