LONDON (AP) — 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.
Treasury chief 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, which is 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.
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 conflicts 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 U.K.'s future relations with the EU remain unclear. That includes the nature of any trade relationship, the status of some 3 million EU citizens who live in Britain and the future of the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K, and EU member Ireland.
The British and Irish governments say they want to avoid customs checks or other formalities at a border that is currently nearly invisible — but it's unclear how that can be made to work.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Ireland did not want an economic border between the two countries.
He said it was up to British supporters of Brexit "to say what it is, say how it would work and first of all convince their own people, their own voters, that this is actually a good idea."
The prime minister of EU member Malta, meanwhile, 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.
Michael Corder in Brussels contributed to this story.