Senior Conservatives are discussing the possibility of having to field candidates in the European elections in May in the event that Brexit is delayed.
On Friday morning, Theresa May’s spokesperson insisted there would not be an extension to Article 50, the process that means the UK is set to leave the EU on March 29.
But privately, senior Tories have said an extension of Article 50 is possible if the prime minister’s Brexit deal is rejected in parliament next week.
With European parliamentary elections taking place on May 23, the UK could be faced with the awkward situation of having to run candidates if the Brexit date is pushed back beyond then.
A senior Tory aide has been tasked with drawing up a contingency plan for the European elections, including a list of potential candidates who could stand.
“It would be mad not to prepare for every scenario, however unlikely,” said a source familiar with the plans. A Conservative spokesperson said it was “categorically untrue” that the party’s headquarters was responsible for the list of candidates.
Speaking to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity, a Conservative MEP confirmed that the party’s representatives in the European parliament had discussed “in whispers and hushed tones” having to stand again in May if Article 50 is extended.
“Of course MEPs are talking about what they would do. A variety of discussions are taking place about what would happen,” they said.
Separately, Tory MEPs have been invited to a meeting with the PM in Downing Street at the end of January.
The Conservative MEPs Twitter account said this was a “routine, regular and long arranged meeting”.
But two MEPs told BuzzFeed News that it was not a regular meeting, and they did not know why it had been called.
“We do not have a regular meeting with the PM,” one MEP said.
Another added: “I don’t know what their definition of regular is. Since she has been prime minister we have had two meetings with her, and I have no idea at all why we have been invited to this meeting.”
This week, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer claimed it was “inevitable” that the UK would have to extend Article 50.
Cabinet ministers also told Friday’s Evening Standard that it was increasingly likely that Brexit would be delayed.