Boris Johnson: Talks to begin so Britain can leave EU 'by early next year'
The Government expects to begin formal talks for Britain to leave the European Union by "the early part of next year", Boris Johnson has said.
The Foreign Secretary said ministers were working towards triggering Article 50 of the EU treaties - marking the official start of negotiations - in the first part of 2017.
Speaking in New York where he has been attending the United Nations, Mr Johnson suggested the discussions could be wrapped up before the two-year deadline.
"We are talking to our European friends and partners in the expectation that by the early part of next year you will see an Article 50 letter. We will invoke that," he told Sky News.
"In that letter I am sure we will be setting out some parameters for how we propose to take this forward.
"I don't think we will actually necessarily need to spend a full two years but let's see how we go."
Mr Johnson's remarks are likely to be welcomed by pro-Leave campaigners as an indication the Government is preparing for a "hard Brexit".
They go further than Theresa May, who has said only that Article 50 will not be invoked before the start of 2017.
When European Council president Donald Tusk said she had told him she expected the negotiations would start in January or February his comments were rejected by Downing Street.
The Foreign Secretary also dismissed suggestions that Britain would have to continue to allow some free movement of labour with the EU if it wanted to maintain access to the single market.
"They would have us believe that there is some automatic trade-off between what they call access to the single market and free movement. Complete baloney. Absolute baloney," he said.
"The two things have nothing to do with each other. We should go for a jumbo free trade deal and take back control of our immigration policy."
Mr Johnson insisted that even after Brexit, the UK would continue to be a "participant" on defence and security issues.
"We will continue to be a participant in common European defence discussions, security, foreign policy, counter-terrorism, intelligence sharing and all that kind of thing," he said.
While he acknowledged that Britain could not block a proposal by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker for a "European army", he said member states fully understood the need not to do anything that would undermine Nato.
"If they want to create these new cathedrals of intellectual beauty for their new common defence policy, they may," he said.
"It would be a mistake to do anything that undermined the transatlantic alliance and the Nato security guarantees.
"That's what really keeps Europe safe and actually that is completely understood in all the capitals of Europe."
His comments came as it emerged that Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan had claimed on the eve of the referendum vote that Mr Johnson had not really wanted Britain to leave the EU.
In a clip shown as part of the BBC2 documentary Brexit: A Very British Coup?, Sir Alan - who was then a backbencher - said he believed Mr Johnson had only put himself at the head of the Vote Leave campaign to position himself for a Conservative leadership challenge.
"I think there are a lot of Leave people who don't believe it, and I've always thought that Boris's wish was to lose by one so that he could be the heir apparent without having to have all the S-H-1-T of clearing up all the mess, that's always been my view of Boris," he said.
"By championing Leave, he can be the great heir apparent of the future, darling of the activists, but actually it would be quite good if he didn't actually win the referendum because there would be total chaos."
The Foreign Secretary however insisted that Britain would continue to thrive outside the EU.
"We are going to benefit from the fantastic opportunities for free trade with our friends in the EU. It is overwhelmingly in their interests to do it," he said.
A Number 10 spokesman distanced the Government from Mr Johnson's comments that Article 50 is expected to be triggered early next year.
The spokesman said: "The Government's position has not changed - we will not trigger Article 50 before the end of 2016 and we are using this time to prepare for the negotiations."