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UK PM candidates say time limit would not make N.Irish backstop acceptable

LONDON, July 15 (Reuters) - The two candidates vying to be Britain's next prime minister both said on Monday that they would not be willing to accept the so-called Northern Irish backstop element of Theresa May's Brexit deal, even if a time limit was set.

Opposition to the backstop, designed to prevent the return of a hard border in Ireland in the event of a no-deal exit, was one of the key reasons May's deal was rejected three times by parliament.

Asked during a leadership debate whether the backstop, which would in effect have kept Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain in a customs union with the EU, would be acceptable if a time limit could be agreed, both frontrunner Boris Johnson and foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said it would not.

(Reporting by William James and Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)