Johnson Said to Tell Italy Exit Talks Likely to Start Early 2017

  • Foreign Secretary speaks to Italian counterpart in Florence
  • Johnson tells reporters U.K. must provide ‘certainty, clarity’

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told his Italian counterpart that the U.K. will likely begin formal Brexit negotiations early next year, according to an official briefed on the conversation.

QuickTake Brexit

Johnson, who campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union, met with Paolo Gentiloni  in Florence on Thursday, telling reporters afterward that the U.K. “must supply clarity, certainty” on its plans. Gentiloni said, “We need certainty on timings for Brexit.”

Johnson and Gentiloni on Sept. 15.

Photographer: Carlo Bressan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The Italian Foreign Ministry declined to comment on what was said during the private meeting and the U.K. Foreign Office wasn’t able to respond immediately to the report.

Triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in early-2017 would allow U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to answer recent warnings from home and abroad not to procrastinate on delivering Brexit. May has so far declined to give a timeframe for starting the two years of divorce talks other than to say they won’t begin this year because her government needs time to form a plan.

Unusual Allies

Further delay would risk undermining economic growth in the region just as Germany and France prepare for elections. It would also raise concern within the pro-Brexit lobby that May is reneging on her pledge to enact the result of the June 23 referendum.

A rare alliance of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, former U.K. Independence Party Leader Nigel Farage and French President Francois Hollande’s spokesman were among those to say separately this week that May should trigger Article 50 as soon as possible come the new year. Farage predicted action in January.

“It’s important that the Article 50, which will start the negotiations, is raised by the British government as soon as possible,” European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told Bloomberg Television on Wednesday. “The end of the year, very beginning of 2017 would be the optimal moment to start the negotiations.”

Diane James, who succeeded Farage as UKIP’s leader on Friday, said in her acceptance speech that “the threats to the referendum outcome are increasing by the day” and that May should “stop the faff, stop the fudge and the farce and get on with it.”

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Leaders of the EU’s 27 nations minus the U.K. on Friday talked up the need to secure their borders to control immigration and curb terrorism as they began to chart a way forward in the wake of the U.K.’s vote. The summit in Bratislava is the first in 43 years not to include a British delegation.

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