Theresa May told another senior politician that she will set the ball rolling to leave the EU “early next year”, it emerged today.
Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland's deputy First Minister, revealed the Prime Minister told him that Article 50 would be triggered at the start of 2017.
The claim echoes Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, who said Ms May had given him a similar briefing when the pair held talks at No 10 earlier this month.
However, Downing Street has refused to give what it calls a “running commentary” on its timetable and slapped down Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, for pointing to January.
Speaking at a fringe event at the Labour conference in Liverpool, Mr McGuinness, of Sinn Fein, said: “I asked her about when she will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty [and she said] that she was going to do it not this year but very early next year.
“So we are working on the basis that early next year, the article will be triggered,” the Politics Home website reported him saying.
The Prime Minister has said she will not begin the formal two-year leaving process before the end of this year, but has stopped short of saying exactly when it will happen.
There is growing pressure from senior EU politicians for Brexit to be completed before the European Parliament elections in June 2019, which would mean invoking Article 50 in the first half of next year.
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