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May plays down claim she could force MPs to choose between deal or Brexit delay | Politics News

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The prime minister has played down suggestions she could wait until the eleventh hour and force MPs to choose between her deal or a long delay to Brexit.

Theresa May cautioned MPs against “relying on what someone said to someone else, as overheard by someone else, in a bar”.

A report from ITV News said Olly Robbins, the PM’s chief EU negotiator, was overheard in a Brussels bar saying Mrs May would wait until the end of March before making MPs choose between the two scenarios.

Prime Minister's Europe Adviser Olly Robbins on Whitehall in Westminster, London.
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Olly Robbins reportedly said MPs would either have to delay Brexit or back the deal

But she said the government’s position was “the same”, telling MPs at PMQs: “We want to leave with a deal and that’s what we’re working for”.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay earlier distanced the government from the claim, telling Sky News it would send a “very odd message” to voters.

Britain’s EU departure was once again front and centre at the weekly clash between Mrs May and Jeremy Corbyn.

The Labour leader focused on a controversial Brexit ferry contract which was scrapped at the weekend, saying it encapsulated the “utter shambles” of the government’s planning for a potential no-deal Brexit.

The firm – which had no ships – was stripped of a £13.8m contract by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling after a key backer pulled out.

Seaborne Freight had been drafted in to provide services between Ramsgate in Kent and Ostend in Belgium in the event of disruption at Dover if Britain leaves the EU without a deal.

The collapse of the contract has increased the pressure on Mr Grayling and renewed calls for him to resign.

Mr Corbyn asked the PM to explain “what went wrong”, given the transport secretary had assured the Commons last month he was “confident the firm would deliver the service”.



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Mrs May said that three companies in total were involved in putting on services, with the other two making up 90% of the capacity still in place.

She said: “Due diligence was carried out on all of these contracts and, as Mr Grayling made clear earlier this week, we will continue to ensure we provide that capacity, which is important in a no-deal situation.”

Mr Corbyn queried Mr Grayling’s claim that the Seaborne Freight contract had “no cost to the taxpayer”, noting that a spending watchdog report found £800,000 had been spent on external consultants.

Chris Grayling has warned off a 'less tolerant society' if Brexit doesn't go ahead
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Chris Grayling pulled the contract over the weekend

He asked Mrs May if she wanted to “correct the record”.

The PM said her opposite number was “late to the party”, as the SNP raised the issue in the Commons on Tuesday.

She added: “When these contracts were all let, proper due diligence was carried out – that included third-party assessment of the companies that were bidding for the contracts.

“There would have been a cost attached to this process, regardless of who the contracts were entered into with.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
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Jeremy Corbyn called on the PM to ‘correct the record’

Rounding off his attack on the government, the Labour leader said: “The spectacular failure of this contract is a symptom of the utter shambles of this government and its no-deal preparations.

“The transport secretary ignored warnings about drones and airport security, gave a £1.4bn contract to Carillion despite warnings over their finances, he oversaw the disastrous new rail timetables last year, rail punctuality at a 13-year low and fares at a record high – that is some achievement.

“Now the transport secretary is in charge of a major and vital aspect of Brexit planning. How on earth can the prime minister say she has confidence in the transport secretary?”

Mrs May defended Mr Grayling, hailing him for overseeing the “biggest rail investment programme since the Victorian era”.

She then accused Mr Corbyn of being evasive on where he stands on Brexit.

The PM claimed MPs do not know if Mr Corbyn supports a second referendum, is in favour of a deal or backs Brexit.

“He prefers ambiguity and playing politics to acting in the national interest. People used to say he was a conviction politician – not any more,” Mrs May said.

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