The prospect of a hung Parliament will throw serious doubt over Brexit negotiations, due to begin in earnest in just 11 days.
The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has set June 19 as his favoured date for the start of talks, due to last about 14 to 18 months.
Brussels officials have indicated that the date is not set in stone, meaning it could be delayed to take account of any change in the British government.
What cannot easily be delayed, however, is the date of Britain’s departure from the EU, which is due to take place exactly two years after the triggering of the Article 50 Brexit process on March 29, 2019, whether or not a withdrawal deal has been reached.
Protracted negotiations over the formation of a new government or even a second general election in 2017 could put back the start of formal talks, squeezing even further the limited time available to forge a complex withdrawal agreement and a separate deal on future trade arrangements.
Theresa May repeatedly urged voters to hand her a large majority so that she could go into talks in Brussels with the firm backing of the country and the House of Commons behind her.
She warned that if she lost just six seats, she would no longer be Prime Minister, and an unprepared Jeremy Corbyn would go “naked and alone” to the negotiating table. PA