U.K.’s Johnson Says Brexit-Trigger Process Shouldn’t Drag On

  • Foreign Secretary suggests negotiations should end by May 2019
  • Labour’s Corbyn slams lack of transparency on Brexit talks

Boris Johnson, U.K. foreign secretary outside the foreign office in London.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the U.K. shouldn’t prolong the process of withdrawing from the European Union, suggesting the government will formally trigger an exit by May of next year.

Though Britain voted for Brexit in June, formal talks with the 27 other EU members can’t begin until Prime Minister Theresa May activates Article 50 of the bloc’s Lisbon Treaty, which would set in motion two years of discussions about the terms of departure. 

“What we want to do is not do it by Christmas, but obviously we can’t let the progress drag on,” Johnson told BBC Television’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday. “We’ve got to do a lot of work to gets our ducks in order and that is going on, but then after that, as the prime minister has rightly said, this process probably shouldn’t drag on.”

May has limited herself to saying she won’t trigger Article 50 before the end of the year, and her office slapped down Johnson last week by refusing to endorse his comments in a Sky News TV interview that Brexit talks would probably start in “the early part of next year.” While Johnson refused to be more specific on the timing in Sunday’s interview, he hinted that it should happen before May to avoid Britain still being an EU member at the time of the next elections for the European Parliament, which are due to take place in May or June 2019.

“People will be wondering whether we want to be sending a fresh batch of U.K. parliamentarians, of U.K. Euro MPs, to an institution that we are after all going to be leaving,” Johnson said. “So let’s get on with it.”

Companies and investors have urged the government to provide more clarity on Brexit and its timing so that they can make business decisions that will depend on the nature of Britain’s eventual trading relationship with its closest neighbors. 

The chiefs of several big U.S. banks and corporations have warned May that they’ll begin shifting operations to continental Europe without clarity on that future relationship, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported, citing an account of a meeting in New York last week between May and companies including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and BlackRock Inc.

No ‘Running Commentary’

The chairman of May’s Conservative Party, Patrick McLoughlin, who’s a member of the cabinet, told Sky on Sunday that the government won’t be providing a “running commentary” on Brexit.

May’s lack of transparency on the EU was also criticized on Sunday by Jeremy Corbyn, re-elected a day earlier as leader of the main opposition Labour Party. May’s office said in August there’s no need for a parliamentary vote before triggering Article 50, and Brexit Secretary David Davis said earlier this month that “before Article 50 is triggered will be a rather frustrating time because we won’t be saying an awful lot.”

“I don’t think it’s democratic and I don’t think it’s sustainable at all,” Corbyn told the “Andrew Marr Show,” referring to May’s bypassing of Parliament. “This is a huge political issue. It’s the most significant economic issue facing Britain in my or your lifetime and I’d think at the very least parliament should be fully informed and told.”


May faced further pressure with the Sunday Times newspaper reporting that her predecessor David Cameron had called her and her chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond, “lily-livered” when, as home and foreign secretaries, they failed to support a tough line on immigration controls in Britain’s negotiations with the EU in 2014.

Separately, the Mail on Sunday newspaper published extracts from a book by Craig Oliver, her predecessor’s director of communications, detailing 13 occasions on which May failed to support Cameron in the final six months of his leadership. Oliver referred to her “submarine strategy” of disappearing from view when she was needed to support the “Remain” campaign ahead of the Brexit referendum.

“Theresa was very much part of the ‘Remain’ campaign,” party chief McLoughlin told Sky. “You’ve got to have certain spicy things in a book to sell it.”

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