UK to start Brexit talks early 2017, Johnson says
By Eszter Zalan
UK foreign minister Boris Johnson hinted Thursday (22 September) that his government is likely to launch EU exit talks early next year, only to be rebuked by his prime minister, Theresa May later on.
Johnson told Sky News in an interview that the UK would set out the principles for departure in a notification letter to the EU, which would trigger article 50 of the EU treaty, the clause for the exit process.
"We are talking to our European friends and partners in the expectation that by the early part of next year you will see an article 50 letter. We will invoke that," he said in New York on the sidelines of the UN general assembly.
“We will invoke that, and in that letter I’m sure we will be setting out some parameters for how we propose to take this forward - principles," Johnson said.
He also suggested the exit process could take less than the scheduled two years.
"I don't think we will actually necessarily need to spend a full two years, but let's see how we go," he said.
Downing Street declined to back up Johnson’s statements.
"The government's position has not changed: we will not trigger article 50 before the end of 2016 and we are using this time to prepare for the negotiations," a spokesman said.
Prime minister Theresa May previously only said that Britain would not trigger article 50 before the end of this year.
When meeting Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, on Thursday, she said: "This period of preparation is valuable for all concerned and while we are going to leave the European Union, we are not leaving Europe".
Johnson also slammed the notion that Britain would have to allow some level of freedom of movement to retain access to the EU's single market.
"They would have us believe that there is some automatic trade-off between what they call access to the single market and free movement. Complete baloney. Absolute baloney," he said.
"The two things have nothing to do with each other. We should go for a jumbo free-trade deal and take back control of our immigration policy," Johnson added.
He said it was in the “overwhelming interest” of the EU to do a deal with the UK.
“We are going to benefit from the fantastic opportunities for greater free trade with our friends in the EU. It’s overwhelmingly in their interest to do that," he said.
“Not only do we buy more German cars than anybody else, we drink more Italian wine than any other country in Europe, 300 million litres of Prosecco every year. They’re not going to put that at risk," Johnson argued.
He said however that Britain would still play a role in European defence after it has left the bloc.
"We will continue to be a participant in common European defence discussions, security, foreign policy, counter-terrorism, intelligence sharing and all that kind of thing," he added.
Who wanted Brexit?
In the meantime, Johnson was accused by his own junior minister of never really wanting to quit the EU.
Europe minister Alan Duncan told the BBC he believed Johnson only positioned himself with the Leave camp, so that he could have a shot at the prime minister's office.
"I've always thought that Boris's wish was to lose by one [vote] so that he could be the heir apparent", without having to deal with "clearing up all the mess", he said.
While Johnson was regarded as a frontrunner for the PM's office after Brexit, he did not run. In the end Theresa May succeeded David Cameron as leader of the Conservatives, and prime minister, in July.