Boris Johnson went off script again this morning on when the UK will launch official Brexit talks, despite being slapped down by Downing Street over the issue earlier this week.
Theresa May has stuck doggedly to saying only that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, triggering a two-year countdown to Brexit, would not be implemented before the end of 2016 – but on Sunday Foreign Secretary Mr Johnson indicated it should be done by May next year.
In an interview he warned it would be odd if British people ended up voting in elections to the European Parliament in May 2019, the avoidance of which would require Article 50 to be triggered next May.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “If you think about it there are obviously Euro elections coming down the track. I think people will be wondering whether we want to send a fresh batch of UK Euro MPs to an institution which we are, after all, going to be leaving.”
Last week Mr Johnson was overruled by Downing Street after he told Sky News that Brexit may be kickstarted at the start of 2017, saying: “We are talking to our European friends and partners in the expectation that by the early part of next year we will see an Article 50 letter.“
But on Thursday, Downing Street publicly corrected him, saying in a statement that the decision was up to May:
“The Government’s position is clear. The Prime Minister has said she will not trigger Article 50 before the end of the year. Ultimately it’s her decision.
“She has said she will deliver on the Brexit vote and she won’t kick it into the long grass, but she will do it when she considers she can secure the best deal for Britain.”
Last week former chancellor George Osborne said the formal process of Brexit should not begin until the end of 2017, when the UK would know the outcome of the European elections, which he said would help in negotiations.
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