Brexit: May should invoke Article 50 'within weeks', says John Whittingdale

Former Culture Secretary sets out the deal he thinks Britain should get from Europe

Adam Withnall
Sunday 11 September 2016 14:00 BST

Theresa May should begin the formal process of Brexit within a matter of weeks rather than waiting until next year to trigger Article 50, according to a former minister.

John Whittingdale, who served as Culture Secretary until he was sacked by Ms May in July, was also one of the most senior Tory politicians to break ranks with David Cameron and support Vote Leave.

Mr Whittingdale is now worried that the longer it takes to leave the EU, the more it will encourage Remain campaigners suggesting Brexit need never happen at all.

With a huge amount of work still to be done to prepare the Whitehall departments involved in Brexit, Ms May has said she will wait until at least early next year to trigger Article 50 of the EU treaties, which formally notifies the rest of the union that Britain intends to leave, and sets in motion a two-year process in which it must do so.

But speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Whittingdale said he didn’t see any reason to wait so long.

“I personally would like to see it happen sooner than that. Article 50 is the beginning of the process rather than the end,” he said.

“I don’t see what holds us back. We do need to get the formal process under way. I don’t say that it has to happen tomorrow but I would like it to happen pretty soon, and by that I mean weeks, not months.”

Until the country “embarks on the formal process”, the former minister suggested, “there will be some who will continue to suggest that somehow this can be fudged, that we can make some changes but still essentially remain a part of it and will attempt to find a way out”.

Mr Whittingdale told the Telegraph he believes Britain should retain “access” to the single market, yet at the same time maintain “absolute control” over immigration, completely stop paying money into the EU’s budget and remove European regulations on UK businesses.

A prominent Leave campaigner, Mr Whittingdale ended up on the victorious side of the debate - yet still lost his Cabinet job. He said he went clubbing in Ibiza to get over it, adding “it was great”.

Asked if he resents Ms May for demoting him, he said: “Something like 10 members of the Cabinet left office so I didn’t feel I had been singled out - and it’s her prerogative.”

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