The UK's plans to leave the European Union have been thrown into uncertainty after the general election called by prime minister Theresa May resulted in a hung parliament.
A number of EU officials have expressed concerns that the unexpected election results - in which Mrs May's Conservative Party failed to deliver the commanding majority that had been widely expected when she announced the surprise election in April - may make it more difficult to reach a mutually beneficial Brexit deal.
The prime minister made the decision to go to the polls three years ahead of schedule with the stated aim of providing her party with a stronger mandate to commence the Brexit negotiations. At the time, the Conservatives were enjoying a significant lead in opinion polls over the opposing Labour Party, but this gap has narrowed over the course of the subsequent campaign, culminating in the loss of the Conservative parliamentary majority in the June 8th vote.
Although it is expected that Mrs May will remain in power with the backing of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, the uncertainty caused by the hung parliament - as well as the apparent loss of the prime minister's public mandate - has raised concerns that the Brexit timetable will be affected.
With Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty having already been triggered, the UK is facing a two-year countdown until its exit from the EU is made official in March 2019. Donald Tusk, the European council president, said Britain faces the risk of leaving the EU with no trade deal in place if negotiations do not commence soon.
European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker echoed this view, saying the EU is ready to negotiate as soon as a new UK government is in place, while Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament's Brexit representative, said the election outcome will "make already complex negotiations even more complicated".
He added: "I hope the UK will soon have a stable government to start negotiations. This is not only about the UK, but also about the future of Europe."
The election result has also raised the possibility that Mrs May could be compelled to back down over the possibility of a hard Brexit that would take Britain out of the single market and customs union, in favor of a more conciliatory approach.