The EU has given the British government 11 days to come up with a fresh Brexit plan to avoid crashing out of the bloc at 11pm on 12 April.
In the immediate aftermath of the crushing rejection of the prime minister’s deal, the European council president, Donald Tusk, called an emergency leaders’ summit.
Should the UK seek a lengthy extension, leaders will debate any request at an extraordinary meeting on 10 April.
EU capitals would require a clear justification at least two days earlier from Downing Street on the reason for a lengthy delay to allow officials to prepare. “We expect the UK to indicate a way forward before then, well in time for the European council to consider,” an official said.
EU heads of state and government expressed their alarm at the continued impasse in Westminster following the third defeat of May’s deal.
The Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, said: “I regret the renewed rejection of the withdrawal agreement. We continue to advocate an orderly Brexit, even if it is now becoming less and less likely.”
The Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, said Britain was running out of time. “House of Commons did not seize their third chance to secure an orderly Brexit,” he tweeted. “Very discouraging. UK must now show a way to avoid a no deal. Almost out of options and time. We will intensify our no-deal preparations.”
Charles Michel, the prime minister of Belgium, said: “I call upon UK authorities to act in the country’s interest and present a clear way forward.”
Should May succeed in getting her deal past the Commons next week at a fourth time of asking, the EU would likely waive through an extension until 22 May.
But speaking in Poland, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said it was becoming more likely the UK could crash out on the new default Brexit date of 12 April.
The European commission’s most senior official, Martin Selmayr, tweeted: “12 April is now the new 29 March”, in reference to the original date for the UK to leave the EU.
In a statement, the European commission said a no-deal scenario was likely.
The EU’s executive also sent a message to British MPs who believe the government could pay for a transition period to allow for a managed no-deal Brexit, a proposal made in the “Malthouse agreement” proposal put together by a group of Conservative backbenchers.
A commission spokesman said: “The commission regrets the negative vote in the House of Commons today. It will be for the UK to indicate the way forward before [12 April], for consideration by the European council.
“A ‘no-deal’ scenario on 12 April is now a likely scenario. The EU has been preparing for this since December 2017 and is now fully prepared for a ‘no-deal’ scenario at midnight on 12 April. The EU will remain united.
“The benefits of the withdrawal agreement, including a transition period, will in no circumstances be replicated in a ‘no-deal’ scenario. Sectoral mini-deals are not an option.”
In recent weeks the EU has set out contingency measures that would last between six and nine months, including legislation to keep planes in the air and haulage routes open. Further measures to keep the City of London operating have a 12-month lifespan.
Brussels will not open negotiations with the government on extending such measures until it has accepted the central tenets of the withdrawal agreement : the Irish backstop to avoid a hard border, the £39bn divorce bill and a package on citizens’ rights.
An official in the council, which represents member states, said Theresa May would probably be asked to address the other EU leaders on the chosen way forward at the summit on 10 April.
“The exact timing and modalities of the European council are still to be decided but, like last week, the UK prime minister can be expected to participate in the beginning of the meeting.”
Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, after meeting Barnier in Warsaw, said: “We are open to consider a motion to extend the process of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union by six, nine or 12 months.
“For us the basic thing would be to have the UK stay in the EU. We have always wanted that and I personally have been persuading prime minister May to that, but these are obviously internal affairs of the UK, and three years ago they made their decision”