European Council President Donald Tusk has said he will appeal to EU leaders “to be open to a long extension” of the Brexit deadline, if the UK needs to rethink its strategy and get consensus.
His intervention came as UK MPs were set to vote on seeking to postpone the March 29, deadline to June 30.
EU leaders meet in Brussels on March 21 and they would have the final say.
Prime Minister Theresa May has said that if her Brexit deal is not approved a longer extension may be necessary.
After two resounding defeats in the House of Commons, she will make another attempt to push her Withdrawal Agreement with the EU through next week.
All 27 other EU nations would have to agree to an extension, and Mr Tusk, who is the bloc’s summit chairman, will hold talks with several leaders ahead of next week’s Brussels meeting.
While European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has insisted that any postponement “should be complete before the European elections” at the end of May, Mr Tusk made clear a longer delay was on the cards.
He provoked an angry reaction from pro-Brexit supporters when he said there was a “special place in hell” for those who had promoted Brexit “without even a sketch of a plan of how to carry it out safely”.
Mr Tusk said earlier this year that the EU’s hearts were still open to the UK if it changed its mind about Brexit.