Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay has pushed back against claims that the UK faces a choice between Theresa May's withdrawal agreement or a delay to Brexit.
Last night, ITV reported that the Prime Minister’s chief negotiator, Olly Robbins, said MPs would be forced into a last-minute choice between May’s deal or a delay to Article 50, in comments that were overheard in a Brussels hotel bar.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Barclay said: “The Prime Minister has been very clear that we are committed to leaving on 29 March.”
“It’s not in anyone’s interest to have an extension without any clarity,” he added.
The minister, appointed in November last year after his predecessor Dominic Raab resigned over May’s proposals for leaving the EU, said he was not “in a position to comment on conversations when I wasn't there and heard second-hand in a noisy bar”.
Earlier yesterday, May told MPs to “hold [their] nerve” as talks over the terms of Britain’s withdrawal continued, claiming negotiations over the widely-disliked Irish backstop measure were at a “crucial stage”.
Barclay met with senior MEPs in Strasbourg yesterday. “What came over 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,” he told the BBC.
Pushed on concerns for British businesses about post-Brexit trading terms in the event of a no-deal Brexit, he said: “A deal is the way that we will actually address those concerns in parliament and ensure we give businesses the confidence they need.”
He added the government expected to “give further information” on the tariff implications of crashing out “in the coming days”.
May’s withdrawal agreement was dramatically rejected last month by MPs, who voted against the government in historic numbers.
Many cited their opposition to the backstop – a legal mechanism under which the UK would remain in a single customs territory with the EU after Brexit in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
MPs have raised concerns that the backstop is not time-limited, and the government has said it is seeking “assurances” over its from EU leaders over its nature.
Speaking in Dublin today, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said a no-deal Brexit could be avoided, but that May’s withdrawal agreement was the only route to a smooth departure.
He told a Financial Times event: “The best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal and protect the Good Friday Agreement is to ratify the withdrawal agreement, an agreement made by 28 governments, including the UK.”