LONDON (Reuters) – British lawmakers will face a stiff choice between Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit agreement or a prolonged extension to the 29 March deadline for leaving the block, Olly Robbins, the chief Brexit negotiator in May , he said in a bar in Brussels.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is seen off Downing Street in London, Britain, on February 12, 2019. REUTERS / Toby Melville
Unless May can get an agreement on Brexit approved by the British parliament, he will have to decide whether to delay the Brexit or push the fifth world economy into chaos without an agreement.
May has repeatedly stated that the United Kingdom will start on time, with or without an agreement, while trying to convince the EU to reopen the divorce agreement it reached in November.
But his chief Brexit negotiator, Robbins, was heard by a BTI correspondent in a Brussels bar, saying that lawmakers would have to choose whether to accept a revised Brexit deal or a potentially significant delay.
"I have to make believe that the week that starts at the end of March … The extension is possible but if they do not vote for the agreement, the extension is long", said ITV Robbins in the bar of the 39; hotel Monday a private conversation.
ITV said that Robbins made it clear that the fear of a long-term extension of Article 50 – the exit process from the EU – could focus the minds of the legislators.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said he did not want to comment on the conversations he heard second-hand at a noisy bar but that the government's position was that the UK would leave on March 29 but wanted to do so by agreement.
The spectacle of one of the highest officials in May who undermined his bargaining position in a Brussels bar indicates the extent of the Brexit crisis in the UK that shocked investors and allies alike.
It is not clear why Robbins, an experienced civil servant, would make such comments in a hotel bar, although his remarks will deepen the concerns of legislators supporting the Brexit that May could ultimately delay exit from the block.
Robbins said the most controversial part of the divorce agreement, the backstop of Northern Ireland, was conceived as a "bridge" for long-term business relationships between the UK and the US. EU.
"If the PM decides that we will leave on March 29, agreement or no agreement, that will happen," said Brexit Conservative Conservative Party member Steve Baker. "Officials advise, ministers decide."
But the Brexit activist Nigel Farage said that Robbins should be fired.
"Olly Robbins represents the fifth column of civil service in our country," said Farage. "He should be fired immediately for a combination of betrayal and incompetence."
Written by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Alistair Smout