Britain expects to start the divorce procedure to leave the European Union early next year and may not need two years to negotiate a deal, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Thursday.
London is under pressure from fellow EU members to invoke Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which triggers the start of the exit from the bloc. After that, Britain will have two years to negotiate a deal.
Aides to Prime Minister Theresa May have suggested she hopes to trigger the procedure early next year to assuage any fears in her ruling Conservative Party and among millions of British voters that their decision to leave will not be heeded promptly.
But some lawmakers and government officials say the government has not had time to form a clear negotiating stance and that, by triggering proceedings too early, Britain may land a poor deal.
Johnson, speaking to Sky News television in New York, said Britain was already talking to its fellow members about future ties.
“What we’re doing is talking to our European friends and partners now in the expectation that, by the early part of next year, you will see an Article 50 letter, we will invoke that, and in that letter I’m sure we will be setting out some parameters for how we propose to take this forward,” Johnson told Sky News television in New York.
“You invoke Article 50 in the early part of next year. You have two years to pull it off. I don’t actually think we will necessarily need to spend a full two years but let’s see how we go.”
Some officials and politicians say that the unprecedented negotiations will take much longer than two years.
May has promised to deliver a “unique deal” for Britain – to get trade deals on good terms while limiting immigration, a combination ruled out by European leaders, who say free trade is only possible with free movement of people.
Johnson, a former London mayor who was one of the most prominent campaigners to leave the EU, said the bloc’s stance that there was an “automatic trade-off between what they call access to the single market and free movement of people” was “complete baloney”.
“What I reject is the idea is that there is some automatic link (between trade and migration), and this particularly applies to the negotiation with the EU,” Johnson said.
“The two things have nothing to do with each other. We should go for a jumbo free-trade deal and take back control of our immigration policy.”
He also said gaining control over migration did not mean that Britain was going to be “hauling up the drawbridge or slamming the gates” on those wanting to work in Britain, which many businesses fear.
“What we are going to do is take back control,” he said, using the oft-repeated catchphrase of Britain’s “Leave” campaign.