UK Prime Minister Theresa May had called Thursday's snap elections to strengthen her hand in Brussels, but the loss of her Conservative majority has plunged the Brexit process into disarray just over a week before talks are scheduled to begin.
The Tories won fewer than 320 seats, short of the 326 needed for a majority in Britain's 650-member House of Commons. Labour, the main opposition party, gained more than 30 seats to top 260.
"Mrs. May, who was supposed to emerge strengthened, lost her bet and is therefore in a less-than-clear situation, because the truth is that we don't really know what the governing situation is this morning," European Economy Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told France's Europe 1. Asked whether talks could open June 19 as planned, he said: "Let's not rush things, but either way, we are ready."
Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt, who is president of the Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament, had caustic words for Mrs May.
"Yet another own goal, after Cameron now May, will make already complex negotiations even more complicated," he tweeted.
Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator for Brexit, had a more conciliatory message. "#Brexit negotiations should start when UK is ready; timetable and EU positions are clear. Let's put our minds together on striking a deal," he said.
Mr Barnier also retweeted European Council President Donald Tusk, who alluded to the March 2019 deadline for Brexit talks.
"We don't know when Brexit talks start. We know when they must end. Do your best to avoid a "no deal" as result of "no negotiations", he wrote.
Investors took the latest turmoil in Britain as a prompt to unload the British pound. As European markets began trading on Friday, the currency slipped about 2 percent against the dollar. And yet the shocking electoral outcome also has the potential to diminish the looming economic costs of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
In practical terms the EU will be open to giving Westminster time to form a government, be it for a few weeks or a couple of months. But should there be deadlock in Westminster, there is extremely unlikely to be any willingness to extend deadlines.
However, senior diplomats were also suggesting that the hung parliament could result in London stepping back from the “hard Brexit” stance taken by Mrs May when she said the UK would leave Europe’s single market and customs union.
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