Johnson Says U.K. Expects to Start Brexit Talks Early 2017

(Bloomberg) -- Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the U.K. government is leaning toward triggering formal talks on leaving the European Union in the early part of next year.

"The expectation is by the early part of next year, you will see an Article 50 letter," Johnson told Sky News in an interview. "In that letter I’m sure that we will be setting out some parameters for how we propose to take this forward."

The timeframe is the clearest yet given in public by a member of Prime Minister Theresa May’s government, which previously limited itself to saying Britain wouldn’t invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty this year. Johnson’s comments tally with what Bloomberg News last week reported he had told Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni in Florence.

Fleshing out the U.K.’s intentions may help pacify governments abroad and pro-Brexit campaigners at home that May won’t take too long before starting negotiations. In a sign that EU governments increasingly want May to start talks sooner rather than later, European Parliament President Martin Schulz said prior to meeting her on Thursday that she “shouldn’t wait too long.”

Elections in Germany, Netherlands and France next year mean it might not make sense to wait indefinitely before pulling the trigger.

May has defended the delay by arguing she needs time to build up a team of advisers and form a negotiating stance, a position that has been backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other officials. She has shed little light on her strategy other than to say the end result must include more control over immigration.

Johnson said the talks, which many in the EU believe will be tortuous enough to drag on, may not even take the two years the treaty allows. Asked about the latest timeline, May’s office stuck to the line that the trigger would not happen before the end of 2016.

Johnson also predicted there would eventually be opportunities for more free trade with the EU and that there would be a deal to allow financial services access to the bloc.

"Of course we need a proper deal for our financial services industries, we need to sort out the question of free movement," he told Sky. "But it’s all doable.”

While the British economy and financial markets appear to have weathered the shock of the June referendum result, BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Officer Laurence D. Fink on Wednesday predicted tougher times await investors once the talks actually get going.

“Brexit will be a big deal,” Fink told Bloomberg Television. “ We haven’t even begun the whole concept of Brexit.”