London denies plotting last-minute Brexit vote
Olly Robbins, the U.K. Prime Minister's Europe Adviser and Chief Civil Service Brexit negotiator, arrives for a meeting at the Cabinet Office in London on Dec. 6, 2018. (Mark Kerrison/Alamy)
The British government denied on Feb. 13 it was secretly plotting to force MPs 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 Feb. 11.
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.
“Got to make them believe that the week beginning end of March... Extension is possible but if they don’t vote for the deal then the extension is a long one.”
The government insists it is working towards leaving the EU on time, with a deal in place.
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.”
May on Feb. 12 asked MPs for more time to try and revive the Brexit deal in what the opposition said was a ploy to “run down the clock.”
She said the talks were at a crucial stage and MPs needed to hold their nerve to get changes to the withdrawal agreement, notably the insurance provisions on keeping the border with Ireland free-flowing.
Keir Starmer, the main opposition Labour Party’s Brexit spokesman, said on Feb. 13 that May was stringing parliament along “pretending there’s progress.”
Labour has tabled an amendment for debate in parliament on Feb. 14 which would force the government to either put a deal to a vote by Feb. 27 or allow parliament to take control of the Brexit process.