Leaders of the European Union are prepared to allow British Prime Minister Theresa May to delay Brexit only if she agrees to hold a second referendum or tone down her withdrawal deal, according to reports.

EU officials have reportedly told May that conditions for an extension to the Article 50 process would include a possible second Brexit vote, The Times in London reports.

UK parliament has voted to delay Brexit and wants to put the brakes on the big divorce for now.

All 27 members of the European Council would need to agree on a postponement, they have the final say in the process.


The council's president Donald Tusk is a strong supporter of a second referendum and wants to see a longer postponement so the UK can rethink its strategy.

It's expected he will suggest an extension of one year.

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney also wants a "long reflection period" suggesting until the end of 2020.

MPs voted 412 to 202 to support a government motion to delay leaving the European Union, which was set for March 29.

It will give the UK a three-month reprieve on its departure from the EU. Any extension to Brexit has to be approved by all 27 remaining EU countries.

MPs have already rejected May's EU divorce deal twice and if it fails a third time, the government says the UK is looking at a much longer delay to Brexit.

Politicians however voted against a Remainer bid to secure a second referendum on Brexit.

Once unthinkable, the prospect of a second Brexit referendum was thrown into the spotlight when Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn publicly backed another vote this month.

A vote on holding a second referendum was defeated by a huge margin in a blow to hard line Remainers desperate to stay in the EU for good.

Mr Corbyn, who urged his party to obstain from voting on a new referendum, reportedly sacked Labour rebels who voted to block it.

The Mirror reports Shadow ministers Justin Madders, Yvonne Fovargue and Emma Lewell-Buck defied orders and voted against the move.

The trio were sacked five hours later by Mr Corbyn.

The Tories voted against a second public vote, condemning the motion to a landslide defeat.

Here's a quick look at what might happen from here:


After a series of Parliamentary defeats, British Prime Minister Theresa May grudgingly gave politicians a chance to delay Brexit. This option proved popular, since politicians on both sides of the Brexit debate fear that time is running out to secure an orderly withdrawal by March 29.

May wants to get an extension until June 30 — but only if she can get parliament to back her Brexit deal in a third vote by March 20. May's proposed Brexit deal has been defeated twice already by politicians.

If it is defeated again, May says Britain will have to seek a long extension, with the risk that opponents of Brexit will use that time to soften the terms of departure or even overturn Britain's decision to leave.


A Brexit extension requires approval from all 27 remaining EU member countries. They have an opportunity to grant such a request at a March 21-22 summit in Brussels.

But the rest of the EU is reluctant to postpone Brexit beyond the May 23-26 election for the EU's legislature. The UK won't be represented in the European parliament after it quits the EU; its seats already have been given to other countries to fill in the May election.

The bloc may be open to a long delay, however, to allow Britain to radically change course. European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted Thursday he will appeal to EU leaders "to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus about it."


Parliament's votes this week won't end Britain's Brexit crisis. Both politicians and the public remain split between backers of a clean break from the EU and those who favour continuing a close relationship, either through a post-Brexit trade deal or by reversing the June 2016 decision to leave.

May is unwilling to abandon her hard-won divorce deal with the EU, which sets out the terms of Britain's withdrawal and the outline of future relations with the bloc.

Her Conservative government is holding talks with its Northern Irish political allies and pro-Brexit backbench politicians to see if they will abandon their opposition to a deal they fear keeps Britain too closely tied to the bloc. If May's Brexit deal is defeated in a vote next week, the government says politicians will get to vote on several different options for Brexit to see if there is a majority for any of them.

Opposition politicians think the only way forward is an early election that could rearrange parliament and break the political deadlock. May has ruled that out, but could come to see it as her only option.

And anti-Brexit campaigners haven't abandoned the idea of a new referendum on remaining in the EU. There's currently no majority for that in parliament. A motion calling for a second referendum was defeated by a thumping 334-85 vote on Thursday.

However, the political calculus could change if the paralysis drags on. The opposition Labour Party has said it would support a second referendum if other options were exhausted. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said after Thursday's votes that a new Brexit referendum might offer a realistic way to break the deadlock.

- additional reporting AP.