Michel Barnier will lead the EU's Brexit negotiating team
Eurocrats are facing the nightmare prospect of the torturous divorce proceedings being dragged out even further if no single party wins a majority in tonight’s contest, as predicted by the exit poll.
Contrary to claims made by Theresa May and some senior Conservatives, officials within the EU Commission have no preference over whether it Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn becomes the next Prime Minister.
However, they do hope to see whoever is triumphant emerge with a sizeable majority and a solid mandate, because a “strong leader” will be better placed to negotiate on behalf of Britain.
In part that is because the proposed date of June 19 for the start of the talks - put forward by Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier last month - is not set in stone.
A senior official on the Frenchman’s team shrugged when asked about a hung parliament delaying the negotiations, and noted of the start date: "We haven’t agreed that with the UK yet."
Eurocrats have been unable to pin down British ministers to a specific date due to the ongoing General Election campaign, but still want to get the talks under way in just over 10 days time.
The official insisted today that “the result doesn’t make any difference to us” and said that senior EU leaders will be watching the results of the UK election tonight from an impartial perspective.
But if the contest does result in a hung parliament it will throw months of Brussels’ planning up in the air when the window of opportunity in which to do a deal is already narrowing by the day.
The result doesn’t make any difference to us
Eurocrats face the prospect of facing an entirely different negotiating team in the event of a cobbled together coalition, which would also need time to thrash out its own Brexit strategy.
Brussels officials have already expressed repeated exasperation at how long it has taken Britain to get its act together in what has been a period of political chaos following last June’s vote.
Eurocrats often point out the 27 members agreed their negotiating guidelines in a matter of weeks, whilst it took the UK Government nine months to formulate enough of a strategy to put in the Article 50 letter.
When Mrs May announced the snap election in June, one official hopefully said: “We have some hope that this will lead to a strong leader in London that can negotiate with us with strong backing by the electorate.”
Politicians react to Theresa May's snap general election Wed, April 19, 2017
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has announced her intention to hold an early general election on June 8
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Theresa May has called for a snap general election
But now it is likely that any coalition Government, whether made up of the Tories and Lib Dems or a gaggle of left-wing parties, would pursue a vastly different line in the negotiations to Mrs May going it alone.
Brussels, like much of the rest of the country, had up until the last few weeks been expecting a landslide Conservative victory and its preparations have revolved around the UK leaving the single market and customs union.
Pressed for his views on the UK election this afternoon Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief spokesman, Margaritas Schinas, insisted that the bloc was “ready” for any outcome.
He told reporters: “The only one expressing their views today will be the British public, certainly not the EU Commission. The president will congratulate the winner and we’ll do our job to make sure that the President’s message is heard.”