Michel Barnier said Tuesday that "the question is: what is the point? What is the objective of that extension? That will determine the length, or explain the duration." After talks with EU ministers to prepare Thursday's Brexit summit, Barnier said that any U.K. demand for a long extension "must be linked to something new, a new event, or a new political process."
He says that the draft agreement sealed between EU leaders and May in November remains the only deal possible. Barnier warned of the danger that Britain might crash out of the EU without a deal, saying "everyone should now finalize preparations for a no-deal scenario."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Brexit is in a state of flux and that European Union leaders will "try to react" to whatever British Prime Minister Theresa May proposes on Brexit at an EU summit this week.
Merkel said in Berlin: "We will watch very attentively how the British government reacts to what was said yesterday in Parliament and then deal with the situation. I cannot evaluate what it will be on Thursday — much too much is in flux."
The British government appears to be preparing to ask the EU for a long extension to the country's departure date of March 29, after the House of Commons speaker ruled the government cannot keep asking lawmakers to vote on the same divorce deal they have already rejected twice.
Merkel said: "I'll concede that I wasn't actively aware of the British Parliament's rules of procedure from the 17th century, so I took note of this with interest yesterday."
For all the talk of Brexit uncertainty weighing on the British economy, the country continues to post sizeable declines in unemployment.
The Office for National Statistics said employment in Britain rose by 222,000 in the three months to January, compared to the previous quarter. That took the employment rate up to a record 76.1 percent.
Meanwhile, the country's unemployment rate declined to 3.9 percent. That's the first time it has fallen below 4 percent since early 1975.
James Knightley, chief international economist at ING, said the figures are "stunningly strong" and suggest that business in Britain "must still be seeing healthy demand to have the confidence to hire workers in such numbers."
Wages are also on the up, with average weekly earnings excluding bonuses 3.4 percent higher than the previous year.
The figures counter much of the economic news of recent weeks, with increasing signs of Brexit uncertainty harming the economy, notably business investment.
France's European affairs minister, Nathalie Loiseau, says Britain must make up its mind about its future in the EU or it risks crashing out of the bloc by default on March 29.
Loiseau said U.K. lawmakers "have said no to a 'no-deal' and they have said no to a realistic deal. They have to change their mind on one of the two options."
Meeting with EU counterparts to prepare this week's Brexit summit, she said "if there is no decision, the date of March 29 comes and then it's a 'no-deal.' For the British to decide nothing is to decide on a 'no-deal'."
Summing up the growing European fatigue with two years of protracted negotiations, Loiseau said: "You have to have a sense of humor when you deal with Brexit right now."
She added: "We have goodwill but we also have other issues to deal with and we have citizens and companies and the uncertainty is unbearable for them."
Germany's European affairs minister, Michael Roth, says Brexit is not a game and that the EU is worn out by two years of tortuous and interminable negotiations over Britain's departure from the bloc.
Speaking at a meeting with his EU counterparts to prepare a leaders' summit this week, Roth said "we are really exhausted by these negotiations."
Roth said: "I expect clear and precise proposals of the British government."
He told reporters that "it's not just a game. It's an extremely serious situation, not just for the people in the United Kingdom but also for the people in the European Union."
Roth underlined that Germany stands by the deal the EU agreed with British Prime Minister Theresa May in November and "it's the key priority to prevent a no-deal Brexit."
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 but following the failure of lawmakers to back her withdrawal agreement, May is expected to ask leaders at the summit for an extension to the country's departure date.
The European Union's presidency thinks a series of developments over recent days have made it more difficult to predict what might happen at this week's summit of EU leaders, at which British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to request a delay to Britain's departure date from the bloc.
Romania's European affairs minister, George Ciamba, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said "the biggest issue right now is that it's getting more foggy."
His comments come a day after John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, ruled out a new vote on May's Brexit deal unless there are substantive changes. May was trying to win support from opponents who have voted against her deal on two occasions previously.
Ciamba said "we need to have more clarity from London. Clearly, there is no clarity."
EU leaders gather in Brussels on Thursday to weigh whether to grant Britain an extension on beyond March 29, and if so, for how long.
The British government is considering its response to the ruling of the speaker of the House of Commons that Prime Minister Theresa May cannot keep asking lawmakers to vote on the same European Union divorce deal they have already rejected twice.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay told Sky News Tuesday that the Cabinet would give "serious consideration" to John Bercow's decision that the government could not bring the deal back for a third vote without substantial changes. May has been lobbying opponents in preparation for another vote on her plan.
Barclay says the government needs "to look at the details of the ruling."
"The fact that a number of members of Parliament have said that they will change their votes points to the fact that there are things that are different."
Follow AP's full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit