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Britain Will Not Trigger EU Exit Procedure Prematurely

FILE - United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (L) and European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini (rear) listen as United States Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a meeting of foreign ministers from Germany, the UK, France, Ita

Britain has to do more work before it triggers the formal procedure to start its exit from the European Union, Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said Sunday, but once it is done the country will not let the process drag on.

Johnson, who led the campaign to leave the European Union in Britain's June referendum, said in an interview with the BBC Television the country should exit before the next European Parliament elections in May 2019.

He was asked three times about the timing, but declined to repeat his last week’s assertion that Britain would invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the official procedure for departing, within months of the New Year.

Johnson was not subsequently backed up by Prime Minister Theresa May, who repeated her position the provision would not be triggered this year.

London is under pressure from EU members and from millions of Britons who voted to leave the bloc to start the formal procedure.

But some lawmakers and government officials have said the government has not had time to hammer a clear negotiating stance, and by triggering proceedings too early Britain may land a poor deal.

May has promised to deliver a "unique deal" for Britain, getting trade deals on good terms while limiting immigration, a combination ruled out by European leaders. They have said that free trade is only possible with free movement of people.

May’s aides and ministers have told reporters the government will not offer a "running commentary" on the divorce with the European Union, but they have stated it clearly that any decisions will be taken by the prime minister herself.