Angela Merkel has told EU leaders a Brexit extension would be unavoidable if British MPs vote down the deal agreed with Boris Johnson.
During private talks at the EU summit, the German chancellor told her fellow leaders they could not pretend an extension would not be offered to the UK if it was requested, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
Merkel framed Brexit as a historic issue weighing on the EU and said leaders had a responsibility not to push the UK out without a deal if there was a request for further delay.
Her remarks contrast with the public statement of Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, who said he was “ruling out” an extension. Although he has no power to veto any delay, he said: “If we have a deal, we have a deal, and there is no need for prolongation.”
In reality, the positions of Juncker and Merkel are much closer. Juncker, who has previously favoured long Brexit extensions, told EU leaders that talk of an extension was not helpful.
The conversation took place on Thursday, shortly before EU leaders announced their unanimous backing for the new deal with Johnson.
Merkel told Johnson not to tell the British public that EU leaders had ruled out an extension. While EU leaders are anxious for the Brexit deal to pass, they do not wish to be drawn into the vortex of British politics.