FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon rejected claims that Prime Minister Theresa May's latest round of Brexit talks are anything other than an attempt to run the clock down.

Sturgeon said there had been no indication, "publicly or privately", that May had become any more serious about finding compromise on the single market or customs union.

Her comments came ahead of a meeting between Labour shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer and MP Jon Trickett, and May's deputy David Lidington, chief of staff Gavin Barwell and Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay.

The First Minister tweeted: "There’s nothing that I can see – publicly or privately – to suggest that PM is remotely serious about any compromise around single market/customs union...or indeed that she would have the time to do anything meaningful on it even if she was.

"It is clear that her strategy is to run down the clock with empty promises and then attempt to blackmail MPs. What’s not yet clear is if she’ll try to blackmail moderate MPs with threat of no deal or, as per Olly Robbins’ bar chat, Brexit zealots with threat of delay, or both.

"It is beyond unacceptable on an issue of such magnitude that MPs allow themselves to be forced into a fire or frying pan choice. The priority for all sensible MPs must surely be to insist on an Article 50 extension to take the crippling threat of no deal off the table now."

It came as Barclay rejected suggestions that the UK Government has ruled out a no-deal Brexit.

Senior negotiator Olly Robbins was reported to have been overheard in a Brussels bar saying that Theresa May planned to wait until the end of March before confronting MPs with a choice between her deal or a lengthy delay to Brexit.

But Barclay insisted that it remained "the agreed position of the Cabinet" to work to secure a favourable deal but plan for the possibility of no-deal.

Asked whether Robbins's reported comments reflected Government policy, the Brexit Secretary said: "No. The Prime Minister has been very clear that we are committed to leaving on March 29."

In the Commons, May insisted the Government's position concerning the Article 50 withdrawal process had not changed.

"We triggered Article 50 – in fact this House voted to trigger Article 50. That had a two-year time line. That ends on March 29," she told MPs at Prime Minister's questions.

"We want to leave with a deal. That is what we are working for."

Downing Street declined to comment on reports of the remarks supposedly made by Robbins to colleagues in a Brussels hotel bar.

ITV News said the official who heads the UK's negotiation team was heard saying that if MPs do not vote for a deal, the EU would probably grant an extension to the two-year Article 50 withdrawal process, but it would be "a long one".

He was quoted as saying: "The issue is whether Brussels is clear on the terms of extension. In the end they will probably just give us an extension.

"Got to make them believe that the week beginning end of March... Extension is possible but if they don't vote for the deal then the extension is a long one..."

Conservative party vice-chairman Chris Philp later dismissed the report, telling BBC's Newsnight: "What a civil servant might speculate in a bar after a few drinks is frankly not that important."

However the comments reinforced suspicions among MPs that Mrs May is trying to "run down the clock" in an attempt to force them to back her agreement.

May is facing a potential confrontation with Eurosceptic Conservatives, who have warned they will not back a motion she has tabled for debate on Thursday, which they believe effectively endorses a policy of ruling out no-deal.

The motion asks the Commons to reaffirm its decisions in an earlier debate on January 29, when amendments were passed requiring the PM to go back to Brussels to replace the controversial Irish backstop, but also rejecting a no-deal outcome.

One member of the Leave-backing backbench European Research Group (ERG) told the BrexitCentral website: "We told the Government very clearly last night that we will not support this motion and in fact we urged them, indeed pleaded with them at senior level, to withdraw it yesterday - but they took absolutely no notice. Frankly, we despair."

Meanwhile, Starmer said Labour is committed to preventing May from pursuing a "reckless" policy of running down the clock to the point where MPs may be faced with a choice between her deal or no-deal with just days to go to the March 29 deadline.

Labour has tabled an amendment for debate in the Commons on Thursday which would require the Government to either put her deal to a vote by February 27 or allow Parliament to take control of the process.

Starmer said Labour will also support a proposal from backbencher Yvette Cooper, which has the backing of senior Tories including former party chairman Dame Caroline Spelman and ex-minister Sir Oliver Letwin.

Cooper's amendment would require a vote by the middle of March on delaying Brexit, unless May secures Parliament's support for either her deal or a no-deal withdrawal by that time.

Karmer said Labour "will support that", but sidestepped the question of whether frontbenchers who vote against it or abstain would lose their jobs.

Several shadow ministers were allowed to stay in post despite disobeying orders to back an earlier amendment from Cooper last month.

"I'm clear what my job is on this, and that is to get amendments down that stop the Prime Minister doing what she's doing, because it is actually a reckless policy," said Starmer.

"What the Prime Minister is up to is obvious. She's coming to Parliament every other week, pretending there's progress and trying to buy another two weeks, edging her way towards March 21, when the next EU summit is, to try to put her deal up against no-deal in those final few weeks.

"Parliament needs to say 'That's not on'."