LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) – Britain has a lot of work to do before triggering the formal divorce procedure with the European Union but once it is done, the country will not let the process drag on, Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday.
Last week, Johnson said Britain would trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty to start its exit from the bloc early next year. He was swiftly put in his place by Prime Minister Theresa May’s aides who said the policy had not changed – Britain would not invoke the procedure this year.
London is under pressure from fellow EU members and millions of Britons who voted to leave the bloc at a June referendum to start the divorce, and May’s aides have suggested that she hopes the formal procedure will be started early next year.
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.
“I think the crucial thing is that obviously we are not going to do it before Christmas and I think we’ve got to do a lot of work to get our ducks in order and that is going on,” Johnson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr program.
“I think … what everybody wants … is clarity and getting on with it. And not letting the process drag on is the key phrase I would use.”
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.
Her aides and ministers have told reporters the government will not offer a “running commentary” on the divorce but they are clear any decisions will be taken by May.
Jeremy Corbyn, who was re-elected as leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party on Saturday, added his voice to calls for the government to involve parliament in the divorce after ministers said it would play a so far undefined role.
Asked by the BBC’s Andrew Marr whether that was democratic, Corbyn said: “I don’t think it’s democratic and I don’t think it’s sustainable at all.”
“This is a huge political issue, it’s the most significant economic issue facing Britain in my or your lifetime and I think at the very least parliament should be fully informed.”
Johnson, a former London mayor who was one of the most prominent campaigners to leave the EU, reiterated that Britain must regain control of immigration through the divorce.
“I want skilled and talented people to come to the UK if they want .. .to fulfill their dreams in our country. Then I have no problem with that provided that we have control,” he said.
“I think for 25 years UK business and industry have been mainlining immigration like a kind of drug without actually investing enough, or caring enough frankly, about the skills and the training of young people in our country.”
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Louise Heavens)