The future of Brexit talks appears to have been thrown into doubt following suggestions that Theresa May could be forced to water down her demands in order to appease Parliamentary opponents.
The Conservative leader began this election by calling on voters to give her a clear mandate for negotiations as she warned that “division in Westminster” risked undermining her efforts to make Brexit a success.
With a 20-point lead in the polls, Mrs May initially looked set to return to Parliament with a majority in the triple figures.
But with last night’s revised exit polls suggesting the Tories were on course to lose nine seats, it is now increasingly likely that she will find herself hostage to her Labour and Lib Dem rivals when talks begin in earnest in 10 days’ time.
Ever since she announced her decision to call a snap poll, Mrs May has sought to put Brexit at the centre of the Conservative campaign.
She has spent the last seven weeks urging voters to “strengthen her hand” in negotiations, as she warned that losing “just six seats” would mean putting a “chaotic” Jeremy Corbyn in charge.
However, with the prospect of a hung Parliament now on the cards, Mrs May finds herself in a difficult situation.
She still needs to pass a raft of legislation through the Commons before Brexit can be completed. But she has faced fierce opposition from Labour and the Lib Dems so far, and her standing within her own party has taken a serious blow.
Last night this led to speculation that this could see Mrs May come under pressure to reconsider membership of the Single Market or a second referendum on the final deal.
There was even a suggestion that the Brexit process itself could be halted given claims that Article 50 is reversible.
This comes just days before the Prime Minister is due to meet with fellow European leaders to begin talks on June 19, after months of preparation and sabre-rattling.
It is understood that many in Brussels were hoping Mrs May’s gamble would pay off on the understanding that it would enable her to make the awkward compromises needed to reach a deal.
There are now just 22 months left before the two-year deadline for negotiations runs out, and this can only be extended with the agreement of the other 27 member states.
The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has made it clear that there is no appetite to discuss a future relationship between Britain and the EU until difficult questions around the so-called divorce settlement have been addressed.
Ukip leader Paul Nuttall last night accused Mrs May of putting Brexit “in jeopardy”.
His predecessor Nigel Farage said the country “may be looking down the barrel of a second (EU) referendum”.