(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson said he’s hopeful of striking a Brexit deal at the European Union summit in October and that both sides “can see the rough area of landing space” to do it. But Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said “large gaps” remain, and a key Northern Irish party rejected a report it is willing to make a major compromise on the contentious border issue.

Meanwhile, political and legal challenges are mounting against Johnson’s threat to deliver Brexit without a divorce deal if necessary. The British prime minister still wants a general election to break the impasse, and will appeal to voters in pro-Brexit areas of northern England in a speech on Friday.

Key Developments:

  • Johnson due to speak in northern England at 12:30 p.m.
  • Irish PM Varadkar said “exploratory discussions” underway with U.K. on alternatives to the backstop, but two sides still far apart
  • DUP’s Wilson rejected report it will allow regulatory checks in the Irish Sea and that it has softened its stance on keeping Northern Ireland aligned with the EU
  • House of Commons Speaker John Bercow warned Johnson that MPs won’t let him force a no-deal Brexit

Farage Shows Johnson the Way in Pro-Brexit North (10 a.m.)

Voters in Hartlepool demonstrated why Boris Johnson is traveling north to deliver his election pitch on Friday. They handed control of the northeast town’s council to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, the BBC reported, delivering a significant blow to the Labour Party in an area it traditionally dominates.

Johnson is targeting pro-Brexit voters who have become disillusioned with Labour as it shifts toward backing a second referendum on leaving the European Union. His Conservative Party hopes it can take seats in Leave areas to offset any it might lose to Labour or the pro-EU Liberal Democrats in Remain-leaning districts.

But the Hartlepool result is further evidence he’s unlikely to get the Brexit vote to himself. Johnson’s officials ruled out an electoral pact with Farage this week, but the question won’t go away if the Tories see the pro-Brexit vote still split heading into a national poll.

Brexit Gap ‘Very Big,’ Irish PM Says (Earlier)

Ideas floated so far to replace the backstop -- the fallback measure in the Brexit withdrawal agreement designed to keep the Irish border free of checks -- fall “very short” of what’s needed, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said.

In interviews with Irish radio stations RTE and Newstalk, he said that while the two sides are talking and he’ll fight for an agreement to the last day, a no-deal Brexit remains a “real risk.” Some “exploratory discussions” are underway with the British government as Johnson seeks “alternate arrangements” to the backstop, he said.

“We’ve always accepted that alternative arrangements could supersede the backstop,” Varadkar said. “But I think the gap is very big at the moment.”

Wilson: ‘Nonsense’ to Say DUP Softening on Backstop (Earlier)

Sammy Wilson, Brexit spokesman for the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, denied the party was prepared to shift its red lines to help unlock a divorce deal between the U.K. and the European Union. Wilson was commenting after the Times newspaper reported the DUP would drop its objection to regulatory checks in the Irish Sea -- an idea they have always said amounted to barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

The Times article is “totally untrue,” Wilson told BBC Radio. A concession on those lines “is contrary to the position we have adopted throughout the debate,” he said, adding that Boris Johnson’s government has “has made it quite clear that it will not accept an arrangement which has a backstop, which separates Northern Ireland out from the rest of the United Kingdom.”


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To contact the reporters on this story: Tim Ross in London at tross54@bloomberg.net;Dara Doyle in Dublin at ddoyle1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Stuart Biggs, Alex Morales

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