Brexit Chief Negotiator Olly Robbins was overheard saying that an Extension to article 50 was possible, and could potentially be “long”. However, the journalist who overheard this, admitted that he couldn’t hear every word, and that the bar they were in was too noisy to record.
ITV News broke the story, after their journalist overheard Robbins speaking to a colleague about the Brexit deal in a bar. The comments, if true, would contradict Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan of leaving the EU by the deadline through whatever means necessary.
“Extension [of article 50] is possible but if they don’t vote for the deal then the extension is a long one. The issue is whether Brussels is clear on the terms of extension. In the end they will probably just give us an extension.”
Downing Street declined to comment when questioned, and Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said that the alleged comments did not reflect government policy.
“The prime minister has been very clear that we are committed to leaving on 29 March. What came over (from meeting with MEPs on Tuesday) was actually that it is not in anyone’s interests to have an extension without any clarity. It is actually very disruptive to the European Parliament.”
The comments have drawn widespread criticism from across the benches. Steve Baker, Deputy Leader of the European Research Group, said that Robbins should be “appalled” by the story.
An ERG spokesperson asked: “Who’s in charge of this? Either the Prime Minister is and this is what she wants, or she isn’t and is just doing what the civil service tells her”.
Robbins was also apparently overhead sparking more controversy by claiming the backstop in Ireland, designed to avoid a hard border, was conceived as a “bridge” to the future relationship.