Jacob Rees-Mogg has hinted that Theresa May’s chief Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins made remarks about Brexit intending to be overheard, after a TV producer heard his private conversation.
Mr Robbins was in a hotel in Brussels following a meeting between Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay and Michel Barnier, and ITV producer Angus Walker overheard him at the bar saying he thought MPs may be faced with the choice between accepting Mrs May’s deal or seeing Article 50 extended.
Mr Rees-Mogg told Julia Hartley-Brewer that he suspected the comments were made with knowledge that they might be overheard.
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“I’ve never thought that eavesdropping is the best public policy, you get snippets of conversation and you don’t get precisely what’s being said,” he said.
“Even the report acknowledged they didn’t pick up every word of what was being said.
“It’s hard to get the nuance.
“I also have a feeling that experienced and discrete civil servants do not speak loudly in a bar unless there’s a message that they wish to be picked up.
“I would have thought that was not as accidental as it may have appeared, it was simply an effort to, from the government’s point of view, persuade people they had to back the government or it may be delayed, rather than dealing with the reality that the law is in place, we leave on the 29th March come what may.”
'Sympathy' for Shamima Begum
The Prime Minister has repeatedly said the UK will leave the EU on March 29.
But she suffered further setbacks on February 14, when her amendment, which asked MPs to declare their support for the Brexit plan agreed back in January saying she would return to Brussels to seek further amendments, was defeated.
Mr Rees-Mogg abstained from voting - the chosen course of action by the European Research Group (ERG) of which he is chair.
“The reason I abstained was because it referred back to a motion that wanted to take leaving without a deal off the table, which in a negotiation is a really foolish thing to do,” he said, referring to the Spelman amendment, which was approved on January 29 and asked for a no-deal Brexit to be ruled out. It was not legally binding.
“It was a very badly thought-through motion that was not good for the government,” Mr Rees-Mogg added.
He also urged sympathy for Shamima Begum, who wants to return to the UK after leaving to join the Islamic State in Syria.
"There ought to be human sympathy for a 15-year-old who has been abused and a victim in this process. Sometimes the hard line is not the right line," he said.