German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly stunned reporters in Brussels on Friday when she appeared to say that she would work against Britain remaining in the European Union after a possible second referendum.

"We would of course take note of that. You know we are preparing for such an eventuality, but in terms of what is in my power and what we can take responsibility for, we will do everything to ensure that this does not happen," she replied, before coughing.

Merkel, who was suffering from a cold throughout a two-day EU summit in Brussels, appeared to think she had been asked what she would do in the event of a disruptive "no-deal" Brexit. Her spokesman promptly told her that she had misheard the question, and she rephrased her answer.

"Ah, right," she said. "That is a totally speculative question, and I never answer those."

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