The British government has denied speculations that it was secretly planning to force the Parliament into a last-minute choice on Brexit between a rejigged deal or a lengthy delay.
ITV television reported that it had overheard Prime Minister Theresa May’s chief Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins in a Brussels bar saying the European Union would probably let Britain extend its March 29 departure date.
Such a move would effectively mean removing the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal.
ITV reported that it eavesdropped on Robbins, one of the key figures in the Brexit negotiations, talking to colleagues in a hotel bar on Monday.
He was said to have indicated that if lawmakers — who overwhelmingly rejected the deal struck between London and Brussels — did not vote for a rehashed withdrawal agreement, then the delay to Brexit would be “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,” he was quoted as saying.
The government insists it is working towards leaving the EU on time, with a deal in place.
A government spokesman said: “We would not comment on alleged remarks from a private conversation which is said to have been overheard in a hotel bar.”
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay denied the reported Robbins comments reflected official government policy.
“We are committed to leaving on March 29,” he told BBC radio.
“It is not in anyone’s interest to have an extension without any clarity.”