British Prime Minister Theresa May is in Brussels on a last-gasp mission to beg EU leaders for more time to deliver a Brexit deal that was twice rejected by her own parliament.
The European Union will agree to hand Britain a Brexit delay until May 22 if its parliament approves the divorce agreement next week, according to draft conclusions considered by the other 27 national leaders onThursday.
"The European Union commits to agreeing, before March 29 2019, to an extension until May 22, provided the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week," said the draft, seen by Reuters news agency.
"Given that the United Kingdom does not intend to hold elections to the European Parliament, no extension is possible beyond that date."
The UK government needs to win parliamentary support next week for its EU divorce deal.
Across the Channel, however, there were few signs that Prime Minister Theresa May's unpopular Brexit deal was gaining in popularity among British lawmakers.
May angered many with a televised speech late Wednesday, blaming a divided Parliament for an impasse that has left Britain eight days away from crashing out of the bloc with no divorce deal.
One lawmaker slammed her remarks as "toxic."
May in Brussels
As she arrived in Brussels to lobby her European partners to extend the Brexit date from March 29 until June 30, May did not rule out taking Britain out of the EU with no deal if the divorce agreement she reached with the EU in November is rejected again by British lawmakers.
Businesses and economists say a no-deal Brexit would cause huge disruptions to the economies of both Britain and the EU.
"What matters is that we recognise that Brexit is the decision of the British people. We need to deliver on that," May said. "I sincerely hope that will be with a negotiated deal."
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 unless the bloc grants an extension.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said that among the 27 other EU leaders "there is an openness to an extension [of Brexit] across the board."
"Nobody wants no deal here," Varadkar told reporters.
Lithuania's president, Dalia Grybauskaite, said it was likely "we will grant [an extension], but what exact timing, that's still under discussion."
She said the bloc would likely set a late-May deadline ‚ or [a] long extension, and in that case the UK will have to organise elections."
She said the key problem was the May 23-26 European Union elections.
Britain so far has no plans to take part in the vote because it hopes to leave the bloc before the new parliament is in session.
Rejected at home
May's deal has been roundly rejected twice by the UK Parliament, and EU leaders want evidence that May can convince lawmakers to change their minds next week.
On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that if British MPs reject the Brexit withdrawal agreement once again next week their country will leave the European Union without a deal.
"In the case of a negative British vote then we'd be heading to a no deal. We all know it. And it's essential to be clear in these days and moments," Macron said, arriving at the EU summit in Brussels.
UK opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was also meeting senior EU officials in Brussels, trying to persuade them that Parliament can find an alternative to May's rejected Brexit plan.
Corbyn said he was "looking for alternatives and building a majority in Parliament that can agree on a future constructive economic relationship with the European Union."
'National emergency' at home
Britain faces a "national emergency" as the risk of a no-deal Brexit soars, business and union leaders warned in an open letter to Prime Minister Theresa May.
"Our country is facing a national emergency. Decisions of recent days have caused the risk of no-deal to soar," read the letter from the heads of Britain's biggest employers' grouping, the Confederation of British Industry, and union umbrella organisation the Trades Union Congress.
With just over a week before the country is set to end more than 40 years of frictionless trade, the letter says, "firms and communities across the UK are not ready for this outcome. The shock to our economy would be felt by generations to come."
'No-deal' Brexit preparations
Meanwhile, the Bank of England said on Thursday that UK companies have ratcheted up their preparations for a disorderly "no-deal" Brexit over the past couple of months.
As well as opting to keep the bank's main interest rate on hold at 0.75 percent, the nine-member Monetary Policy Committee voiced concerns about the impact of a series of "cliff-edge" moments over the country's exit from the European Union.
Minutes to the meeting showed that rate-setters were particularly vexed about how "Brexituncertainties would continue to affect economic activity looking ahead, most notably business investment."
Brexit uncertainty has dogged the British economy for nearly three years and that uncertainty has only become more acute over the past few months.
Firms appear to be responding to the uncertainty as best they can.