“I know too that members across the House are deeply concerned by the effect of the current uncertainty on businesses.”
But she added that her “absolute focus” was still on sealing a withdrawal deal by March 29.
A short extension “would almost certainly have to be a one-off”, she said, otherwise Britain would be obliged to vote in the European Parliament elections in May.
She promised Parliament would have a chance to vote again on her Brexit divorce deal by March 12 at the latest.
If the government loses that vote, it will ask for another vote on whether the UK should leave without a deal – a move that government and other experts predict would be disastrous for the country’s economy and businesses.
And if Parliament rejects a ‘no deal’ Brexit, the government will then ask for a vote on an extension to the UK’s EU membership — and if it is approved “bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date”, May said.
It is unclear what would happen if Parliament votes against a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, but also rejects an extension.
The government is about to publish a new report on the impact of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
It emerged on Tuesday that the UK has a dire shortage of the “right sort” of pallets used to import and export goods in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Such pallets are used to transport a vast range of consumer goods from breakfast cereal to pet food, beer and chocolate, The Guardian reported, but they will not meet EU rules to stop the spread of bark beetles and other pests if the UK crashes out at the end of March.
May said she was making good progress in her efforts to rejig the withdrawal deal she signed in Brussels last year, that was rejected by the Commons in January.
The UK and EU have established a “joint work stream” to find an alternative to the ‘backstop’, an insurance policy in the deal intended to ensure the Irish border remains free of checkpoints after Brexit.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who also changed his policy on Brexit yesterday to explicitly support the possibility of a second referendum, said the Prime Minister was still “kicking the can down the road but the problem is the road is running out”.
“Every bit of badly made fudge” meant more uncertainty for business and more jobs put at risk, he said.
He accused May of “stringing people along” with “grotesque recklessness”.
But May said Corbyn’s proposal for a second referendum would be divisive and “take our country right back to square one”.
“Anyone who voted Labour at the last election because they thought he would deliver Brexit will rightly be appalled,” May said.
“This House voted to trigger Article 50 [the treaty clause for Brexit], and this House has a responsibility to deliver on the result. The very credibility of our democracy is at stake.”
Conservative pro-Brexit MP Bill Cash complained that delaying Brexit would «incur many billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money» being handed to the EU.
Nick Miller is Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age