Treasury chief says Britain will take its time after Brexit

Philip Hammond revealed that Britain may take up to three years to gain full independence from EU rules, leading some to complain about mixed signals given by the government on the speed and extent of the divorce.

Neil Hall/Reuters/File
UK Border control is seen in Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport in London. The UK may take more time than expected to break away from the European Union.

Britain will abide by some European Union rules for up to three years after it officially leaves the bloc in March 2019, the country's Treasury chief said Friday.

Philip Hammond said a transition period is needed "to get from the status quo today to the new normal." He said the transition should end before Britain's next election, scheduled for 2022.

Many British businesses accuse the government of sending mixed signals about Brexit. Officials say Britain will leave the bloc's single market and customs union, and end free movement from EU countries.

But officials also say the changes, which have huge economic implications, won't happen overnight.

Mr. Hammond told Sky News that a transition period will let businesses "go on operating normally" while Britain works out its post-Brexit relationship with the EU.

His comments come amid conflict within the government between those, including Hammond, who want a compromise "soft Brexit" to ease the economic shock of leaving the EU, and those who want a clean, sharp break.

More than a year after Britons voted to leave the bloc, many aspects of the United Kingdom's future relations with the EU remain unclear. That includes the nature of any trade relationship, and the status of some 3 million EU nationals who live in Britain.

Meanwhile, the prime minister of EU member Malta said he is starting to believe that Britain's divorce from the European Union will not happen.

Joseph Muscat, whose country held the EU's presidency for the first half of 2017, said he saw signs that British public opinion is turning.

In an interview with Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, he said he hopes a British politician will "stand up with the courage" to offer voters a new referendum on the final Brexit deal.

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