The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has received a dressing down from the Prime Minister after he suggested that Britain could be out of the European Union before 2019. Downing Street sources have insisted that the timetable is for Prime Minister Theresa May only to decide.
Speaking to Sky News from America, in his first major interview in post, the Foreign Secretary said that the UK will invoke Article 50 and trigger formal secession talks “early next year”, and that Britain would, therefore, be out of the Union by early 2019 at the latest.
He added that Britain would be seeking a “jumbo trade deal” once outside the EU.
“You invoke Article 50 in the early part of next year,” Mr. Johnson said. “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.”
But rebuffing Johnson’s comments, a Downing Street spokesman said: “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.”
Speaking to The Telegraph, a source in Number 10 added: “The decision to trigger Article 50 is hers [Theresa May’s]. She will be doing it at a time when she believes it is in the best interest for Britain.”
The source added: “The Prime Minister’s position has not changed.”
Mr. Johnson is not the only Minister to have been rebuked by the Prime Minister’s Office for comments made on the possible shape of Brexit. Earlier this month the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis MP, was also knocked back when he suggested that it was “improbable” that Britain would remain within the European Single Market if it meant giving up border control and accepting the free movement of people.
A senior Downing Street spokesman said at the time: “He is setting out his opinion. A policy tends to be a direction of travel: saying something is probable or improbable is not policy.”
She added: “The prime minister recognises that people have differing views and … all of this has to be negotiated with European partners.”