British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium - Olly Robbins and Barnier are in background February 7, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Chief Brexit adviser Olly Robbins, left, talks to Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, as prime minister Theresa May exits the European Commission headquarters in Brussels © Reuters

Theresa May’s chief Brexit adviser, Olly Robbins, was overheard in a Brussels hotel bar late on Monday night gossiping about the prime minister’s strategy for leaving the EU.

According to a sharp-eared ITV News journalist, Mr Robbins suggested there could be a “long” extension to Article 50, and labelled the Irish backstop a “bridge” to a future trade deal with the EU. The comments enraged Eurosceptic Tories, who insist that sketching out a Brexit plan over a few drinks is their job.

The Financial Times has, however, overheard an even more explosive bar-room conversation — involving the prime minister herself.

Theresa May enters the pub with her advisers

May: Double gin please, innkeeper.

Bartender: Excuse me?

May: Fine, triple gin. And four ales.

Bartender: Bitter?

May: Yes, I am a bit to be honest. We can’t even find a table big enough for us all.

Bartender: You could sit at those two tables.

May: Out of the question, I am not splitting the party. Now, do you serve food?

Bartender: Um, there’s a menu over there, but the kitchen closes in five minutes.

May: Good. I’d love a steak.

Bartender: It’s a vegetarian pub.

May: Some fish would be fine.

Bartender: It’s still a vegetarian pub.

May: Excellent, I will finalise the details.

Five minutes elapse

May: Here’s the plan. I will buy a steak from across the road, you will cook it on your grill, using innovative pans that prevent the meat juices mixing with the vegetarian food. It’s ambitious, it’s bespoke, and it works for us both.

Bartender: It’s against all of our principles.

May: Look, we’re both having to make compromises here — I’m drinking Gordon’s.

Bartender: It just doesn’t look realistic.

May: It would if you were drinking.

Pub regular: Sorry to interrupt, don’t I know you from somewhere?

May: Well, I am the prime minister.

Pub regular: Oooh, you must be very good at making decisions!

May: Of course, lots of decisions, all the time, very quick.

Bartender: Excuse me, have you decided on food?

May: Already? Come on! If you’ll just give me a few minutes . . .

Ten minutes elapse

May: Innkeeper, I would like to order.

Bartender: Then you shouldn’t have called a snap election.

May: No, I mean I would like to make an order for food.

Bartender: Sorry, the kitchen is closed.

May: OK, one question — could the pies come with wedges instead of chips?

Bartender: The kitchen is closed.

May: This uncertainty is deeply damaging for both of us. How about vegetables instead of chips?

Bartender: We have some peanuts.

May: And is it possible to order the set menu without dessert but with extra coffee?

Bartender: Dry-roasted or lightly salted peanuts?

May: Dry-roasted! It’s been a hard negotiation. They said I’d get nothing — but look, I’ve got peanuts!

Three minutes elapse

May: I’ve spoken to the others at the table and they have rejected the peanuts. What else are you offering?

Bartender: That’s not how this works.

May: I should warn you that we are prepared to leave without a meal.

Bartender: Oh, right.

May: And the only way to stop us is to agree a meal.

Bartender: Oh, is it?

May: And if we leave without a meal, then we might not settle our bill.

Bartender: But you already paid.

May: Well, we might order more drinks, and not pay for them.

Bartender: But you left your card behind the bar.

May: Only as part of a good faith agreement! Don’t make me stand up for Britai —

May falls off her stool

Bartender: I’m afraid we’re going to have to ask you to leave. You’ve had more than enough. And you know what, you’re rather getting on my nerves.

henry.mance@ft.com

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