Britain could leave the European Union by the end of 2018, Boris Johnson has said, appearing to press the accelerator on the process.
The Foreign Secretary said he expected the Article 50 notice would be invoked early next year, and that it would take less than the two years widely predicted.
Speaking in New York, where he has been attending the United Nations, Mr Johnson also hailed “fantastic opportunities for free trade”, pouring scorn on warnings that the EU will play tough in the Brexit talks.
He said: “By the early part of next year, you will see an Article 50 letter which we will invoke and, in that letter, I am sure we will be setting out some parameters for how we propose to take this forward. You invoke Article 50 in the early part of next year [and] you have two years to pull it off. I don't actually think you need to spend the full two years, but let’s see how we go.
“We are going to benefit from fantastic opportunities for free trade with our friends in the EU. Not only do we buy more German cars than anybody else, we drink more Italian wine than everyone else – they're not going to put that at risk.”
In an interview with Sky News, Mr Johnson answered the question the Prime Minister has repeatedly dodged: When will the Article 50 process start?
Indeed, when EU Council President Donald Tusk revealed that Theresa May had told him that early next year was the likely timetable, he was slapped down.
However, it is widely believed the process of leaving will take the full two years at least. Further time can be granted, but only if the other 27 EU states agree.
Mr Johnson spoke after the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, urged the Government to get moving, as he arrived for talks in Downing Street.
Mr Schulz said the European Parliament wanted Britain to have completed the exit process by early 2019. He argued it would be wrong for British voters to take part in EU Parliament elections – in June 2019 – while the negotiations were ongoing.
Mr Schulz said: “In London, I will also stress why the European Parliament favours the earliest possible triggering of Article 50, which is a pre-condition to opening negotiations.” And he warned of a tough battle ahead on the crucial issue of freedom of movement for EU citizens, saying, “The four freedoms of the single market – goods, capital, services and persons – are equally important.”
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