DONALD Tusk has indicated that the EU is open to a “long” delay to let the UK “rethink” its Brexit strategy.

The European Council president’s comments were made before MPs voted to back a request to Brussels to delay the UK’s exit from the bloc, scheduled for 14 days’ time.

European leaders will meet next Thursday when Theresa May hopes to make her request to extend the Article 50 process.

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Tusk said: “During my consultations ahead of European Council, I will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it.”

May is expected to bring her deal back to the Commons before next Wednesday for a third meaningful vote. It suffered a historic defeat in January by 230 votes, while on Tuesday it was defeated by 149.

If she finally succeeds, she will go to Brussels next Thursday to request a delay until no later than June 30, to give herself time to pass legislative changes required for a so-called “orderly” Brexit. But if her deal is rejected again, she believes any extension would have to be longer and would involve the UK taking part in European elections in May.

Tusk’s remarks could heap pressure on Tory Brexiteers to set aside their objections and back May’s deal to avoid delaying Brexit. Any request to extend Article 50 needs the unanimous backing of the bloc’s 27 member states. Key Brussels figures have hinted they will only accept a delay to Brexit if the UK can produce a clear strategy to break the current parliamentary deadlock.

May’s motion said the request would be for a one-off extension if her deal was passed, noting otherwise it would be “highly likely” the European Council would require “a clear purpose for any extension, not least to determine its length, and that any extension beyond June 30, 2019, would require the United Kingdom to hold European Parliament elections in May 2019”.

Meanwhile, Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl said there could be “some problem” in obtaining the extension if it took Brexit beyond the date of the European elections.

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney told RTE radio: “If you have a long extension of, say, 21 months to the end of 2020 – whatever the period would be – then Britain has a legal entitlement to have representation in the European Parliament.”