Boris Johnson has hinted that Britain may invoke Article 50 to kickstart its exit from the European Union as early as next year. The Foreign Secretary said that formal talks to leave the EU did not need to take two years once Article 50 was invoked.

He told Sky News that this would happen in early 2017 and that the UK would "take back control" with a special package on free trade and financial services.

"By the early part of next year, you will see an Article 50 letter which we will invoke and in that letter I am sure we will be setting out some parameters for how we propose to take this forward," he said.

However his comments were slapped down by Downing Street which said that the prime minister was not committed to any timetable for Brexit just yet.

Asked about the claim that Brexit could happen within two years, Theresa May's spokesman said: "We would not speculate on that."

The comments by Johnson come after foreign minister Sir Alan Duncan said that Johnson did not want Britain to leave the EU and only campaigned in the Leave camp so he could put himself in the running to be the next leader of the Conservative Party.

In comments made to a BBC documentary scheduled for Thursday 22 September, Duncan, questioned the motives of Johnson in backing the campaign to exit the EU.

"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... you know... of clearing up all the mess, that's always been my view of Boris," he said on Brexit: A Very British Coup?

He added: "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."