The UK’s chief negotiator jokingly asked whether he could have Belgian citizenship after Brexit, according to his EU counterpart.
Behind-the-scenes footage shot for a BBC documentary shows Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, recounting a story about Olly Robbins to his colleagues.
“Olly Robbins came to me and said ‘Guy, can I become a Belgium citizen after this whole thing because I don’t think I will return’,” Mr Verhofstadt told his team, who appeared surprised and amused by the anecdote.
The comment is likely to have been meant as a joke because Mr Robbins is not thought to be eligible for Belgian citizenship.
But the revelation is still likely to enrage Brexiteers – who are suspicious that Mr Robbins does not share their enthusiasm for leaving the EU, and wants to frustrate Britain’s departure.
Friends of Mr Robbins suggested that the joke could have been taken out of context by the senior EU official, who represents the parliament in Brexit talks.
Mr Robbins is the prime minister’s Europe advisor based in the Cabinet Office. He took charge of negotiations with the EU mid-way through talks, after Brexit Secretary David Davis was side-lined due to lack of progress.
Brexiteer suspicion of Mr Robbins was fuelled last year after he was overheard in a Brussels bar ruling out no-deal, in contravention of Theresa May’s stated policy.
BBC camera crews were given access to Brexit officials in the European parliament to make Brexit: Behind Closed Doors, a two-part series focusing on the team around Guy Verhofstadt.
Other scenes from the documentary show EU officials having completely lost confidence in the
UK’s ability to negotiate, with frustration regularly boiling over at behaviour emanating from the government in London.
In one telling scene, official brands Theresa May’s approach to one aspect of Brexit talks “insane” and “pathetic”.
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