Brussels (dpa) - The European Union has given one of its strongest signals yet that it would allow Britain to delay its departure from the bloc.
The apparent stalemate in Brexit negotiations between London and Brussels has led to widespread speculation about a delay past the deadline of March 29.
The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that if the British government asked for an extension, it would most likely be granted.
"Any decision to ask for more time lies with the UK. If such a request were to be made, no one in Europe would oppose it.
"If you are asking for how long the withdrawal can be postponed, I have no time frame in mind," he said in an interview with German newspaper the Stuttgarter Zeitung to be published in its print edition on Tuesday, but previewed online on Monday.
"When it comes to Brexit, it is like being before the courts or on the high seas; we are in God's hands," he commented.
British parliamentarians have failed to support Prime Minister Theresa May's withdrawal deal, while the EU has said it will not renegotiate it.
The main sticking point is the part of the deal known as the backstop, an arrangement designed to guarantee an open Irish border after Brexit.
Senior British lawmakers met the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels on Monday evening, as the search for a way to avoid a no-deal Brexit continued.
The meeting between Barnier, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and Brexit Minister Stephen Barclay "on resolving the outstanding issue of the backstop" was "productive," a spokesman for the Department for Exiting the European Union said.
"We agreed to keep exploring the use of alternative arrangements - especially how they might be developed to ensure the absence of a hard border in Northern Ireland on a permanent footing, avoiding the need for the backstop to ever enter force," the Brexit spokesman said.
In a vote last month, British lawmakers passed an amendment that commits the government to renegotiating the backstop. However, there has since been little sign of progress in talks between Britain and the EU.
Last week, May saw her mandate to negotiate the Brexit deal with Brussels weakened after lawmakers voted against a government motion supporting her plans to seek last-minute changes to the withdrawal agreement.