May and Johnson clash over EU departure timing

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has claimed that it need not take two years to work through the Article 50 process for the UK to leave the EU, and that the process would begin in “early” 2017. Speaking on a trip to the United Nations in New York, Johnson said he believed it would be relatively straightforward for the UK to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU that was “overwhelmingly” in the interests of both sides. Mr Johnson said “We need to sort out the question of free movement, but it is all doable. I don’t actually think necessarily we will need to spend a full two years but let’s see how we go.” However, the Foreign Secretary was quickly rebuffed by Downing Street: a spokesman said that Theresa May was not committed to any timetable for activating Article 50, which begins a two-year negotiating period to complete exit talks.

The differing opinions between the Prime Minister and her Foreign Secretary could feed into concerns that he is not prepared for the task of steering the country out of the EU. Business leaders and some ministers are also becoming increasingly frustrated by the apparent lack of coordination in Whitehall over Brexit. In particular, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is understood to be exasperated by the lack of direction from government or a single point of contact. It has called for a “gear change” beyond introductory meetings, and more co-ordination from the Government about its interaction with businesses.