Juncker rows back on claim Britain must start Brexit immediately
There is no "deadline" for Britain to activate Article 50, Jean-Claude Juncker said yesterday, as he rowed back from earlier demands for the UK to trigger its European Union exit process immediately.
"The British government needs several months to fine-tune its position," the president of the European Commission told French television. "I would have preferred [that] the UK presents us its letter of resignation, so to speak, as soon as possible, as I had thought that the British, especially those who wanted to leave the EU, would have prepared for this possibility," Juncker said.
Theresa May has said Britain will take its time to prepare for the marathon talks, and said that the process will not begin before 2017.
Mr Juncker said on June 27 - before Mrs May's appointment - that Britain had just two weeks to begin the process.
"If someone from the Remain camp becomes British PM, it can be done two weeks after his appointment," he said.
"If the next British PM is from the Leave campaign, it should be done the day after his appointment."
Mr Juncker said there would be no opt-outs whatsoever for Britain on free movement in exchange for single market access.
"There will be no access to the internal market for those who do not accept the rules - without exception or nuance - that make up the very nature of the internal market system," he said.
Asked about Boris Johnson's comparison of the EU's aims for unifying Europe to those of Adolf Hitler, Mr Juncker said he was looking forward to meeting Mr Johnson. "He may notice the difference between Hitler and I is more than a matter of nuance," he said.
It came as Ms May travelled to Belfast to hold talks with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, to discuss delivering stability in Northern Ireland in the wake of the EU referendum.
Speaking after the visit, she said the government would seek to reach a Brexit deal with Brussels which was "in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom".
Ms May also promised to work for a "practical solution" to the future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. She said: "If you look ahead, what is going to happen when the UK leaves the EU is that of course Northern Ireland will have a border with the Republic of Ireland, which will remain a member of the EU.
"But we've had a common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland many years before either country was a member of the EU. Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past. What we do want to do is to find a way through this that is going to work and deliver a practical solution for everybody."