LONDON: Britain's exit talks with the European Union will likely start in early 2017, and could take less than the allotted two years, Britain's foreign secretary said Thursday.
His comments came after the president of the European Parliament urged Britain to make an early start on the talks, saying it's important to finish negotiations before European elections scheduled for mid-2019.
Britain voted in a June referendum to leave the EU, but has not yet invoked the article of the EU treaty that would trigger negotiations. Once it does, there is a two-year timeline laid out for talks.
Prime Minister Theresa May has said she won't initiate the discussions before the end of the year.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson gave the British government's most specific time frame yet, saying he expected talks to be triggered in the "early part of next year."
Speaking at the United Nations in New York, Johnson told Sky News that negotiations could take less than the allotted time.
"I don't think we will actually necessarily need to spend a full two years, but let's see how we go," he said.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz said before meeting May at 10 Downing St. on Thursday that he "understands that the British government wants to take its time."
But he added that it wouldn't be good for Britain or the EU if the British voted for members of the EU parliament while negotiations to leave the bloc were in progress, Germany's dpa news agency reported.
Schulz, a member of Germany's center-left Social Democrats, leads the 28-nation EU's legislative assembly.