Tusk demands the UK parliament must vote for deal to earn extension
EU council President Donald Tusk said yesterday Britain would have to pass the Brexit withdrawal agreement before the EU would grant a short extension.
He said the question of how long that technical extension would be would remain open - although June 30 poses problems for European elections which happen in May.
Ireland will be one of the member states worst affected if Britain crashes out without a deal due to our strong trade ties with the UK.
A package of supports for farmers and businesses is still being drawn up with the EU, but has not yet been signed off. The Government has promised it will be ready by next week.
Last night, a Cabinet minister said the EU was "doing Theresa May a favour" by insisting on another vote on her deal as it would focus the minds of hardline Brexiteers and the DUP ahead of a potential crash out.
"When (EU Commission President) Jean-Claude Juncker says 'not another inch' he's actually supporting her argument that this is the best deal on the table," a senior minister said.
"The EU and prime minster both want the same thing which is a deal that allows them leave in an orderly way," the minister added.
Ministers believe the EU ratifying the Strasbourg deal which gave additional assurances on the backstop to avoid a hard Border on the island of Ireland will allow MPs to have a third vote. This is despite a ruling earlier this week that Mrs May can't bring the same deal back yet again.
Another minister said the Cabinet was not told what would happen if the House of Commons did not support the prime minister's deal.
"To be honest we don't know what will happen if that's the case," the minister said.
The Taoiseach also refused to comment on what would happen if the deal falls again, describing it as a hypothetical situation.
Speaking in Downing Street last night, Mrs May said it was "a matter of great personal regret" for her that Brexit will not go ahead on March 29.
- Read more: 'I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than June 30' - Theresa May has requested a 'short extension'
In a further move to ramp up pressure on her opponents, she blamed MPs for failing to implement the result of the 2016 referendum.
In an address to the UK, Mrs May said MPs - who rejected her deal by 230 votes in January and 149 last week - had been "unable to agree on a way to implement the UK's withdrawal".
"You are tired of the in-fighting, you're tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows, tired of MPs talking about nothing else but Brexit when you have real concerns about our children's schools, our National Health Service, knife crime," she said.
"You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side. It is now time for MPs to decide."
EU leaders will meet today in Brussels to discuss the request from Mrs May and they will also hear from the prime minister herself who it is hoped will lay out her strategy.
The bar has been set high for Mrs May to sell an extension. It is expected the Taoiseach will lobby his counterparts to grant one, and key allies for this approach include the Netherlands and Germany.
While an extension is still the likely outcome, there are divergent opinions among EU leaders. An extension requires unanimous support from the 27 other EU member states, effectively handing each country a veto at today's summit.
France has been consistently tough on Brexit, and Spain and Belgium are thought to be among countries signalling they will demand concrete assurances from Mrs May.
"A situation in which Mrs May is unable to deliver sufficient guarantees on the credibility of her strategy at the European Council would lead to the request being refused and a preference for no deal," Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said.