UK plans to trigger EU exit process early 2017: Johnson
September 23, 2016, 3:10 pm TWN
LONDON -- Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Thursday that Britain plans to trigger Article 50, the formal process for leaving the European Union, early next year.
"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 told Britain's Sky News television in New York.
Prime Minister Theresa May has previously said only that Britain would not trigger Article 50 before the end of this year.
Doing so would mark the formal start of a two-year negotiation period for Britain to leave the EU following its referendum vote in June to pull out of the 28-nation bloc.
However May's Downing Street office distanced the government from Johnson's comments.
"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.
And Johnson, who spearheaded the Leave campaign for Brexit, was dogged by claims from one of his own Foreign Office junior ministers that he only did so to position himself to take over as prime minister.
Europe minister Alan Duncan said he did not believe Johnson really wanted Britain to leave the EU at all.
"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", Duncan told the BBC.
May succeeded fellow Remain-backer David Cameron as leader of the governing centre-right Conservatives, and therefore prime minister, in July.