Theresa May is seeking a short Brexit delay amid suggestions of a Tory backlash if the government requested a longer extension.
In a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk, Theresa May is believed to be asking for a three-month extension to June 30 in the hope of securing approval from MPs for her Withdrawal Agreement.
May’s move comes exactly 1,000 days after the referendum of June 23 2016.
It will dismay Brexiteers still hoping for a no-deal ‘clean Brexit’ on the scheduled withdrawal date of March 29.
Any request for extra time is subject to unanimous approval by leaders of the remaining 27 EU states at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said he had not received May’s letter, but was hoping for ‘clarity’ from the UK on the way forward.
He suggested that agreement on an extension to Article 50 might not be reached at this week’s European Council summit, and that EU leaders might have to meet again next week to finalise it.
Speaking to German radio station DRF, Juncker said: ‘We will probably have to meet again next week, because Mrs May has not got agreement for anything either in her cabinet or her parliament.
‘As long as we don’t know what Great Britain will say Yes to, we can’t come to a resolution.’
Juncker said the EU had already moved a long way to accommodate the UK’s demands, and there would be ‘no more negotiations’.
‘I am ready for any movement, but we have already moved intensively towards Britain,’ he said, adding: ‘There isn’t any more.’
Asked about indications from Downing Street that May will request a short extension, Juncker told DRF: ‘Those months would have to produce, as an end result, an agreement from the British Parliament to the (Agreement) text which is before them.
‘If that doesn’t happen, and if Great Britain does not leave at the end of March, then we are, I am sorry to say, in the hands of God. And I think even God sometimes reaches a limit to his patience.’
Asked if the EU would then rule out any further compromise, Juncker said: ‘We are not in a state of war with the UK, but a state of negotiation. But the negotiations are finished.’
Best for Britain supporter Clive Lewis MP said: ‘Voting for any kind of Brexit means ten more years like the three we’ve just had. An extension of three months or six months or even longer doesn’t answer the crucial question at the centre of this all – do the British people want years more of this embarrassing and divisive distraction or do they want to get back to saving our country from years of austerity?
‘With the impact Brexit is set to have on jobs, workers’ rights and our communities now clear to see, it is only right we go to the people and ask them. We should get the Brexit question resolved so we can move on and focus on climate change, the gross inequalities in our country and building up our NHS. We can do that by giving people the final say.’
Dame Margaret Beckett said that any Brexit extra time must be used to give the British people the final say.
‘What is needed now is for parliament to use whatever extra time we can now get to work out what we want. When MPs have properly scrutinised all such options and decided on what Brexit means – hard and expensive or soft and pointless – I believe we will reach an understanding – that any deal will be so far from what was once promised and so certain to disappoint so many, it must receive final approval from the people of the United Kingdom.’