LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s progress towards life outside the European Union became more entangled on Friday, with divisions deepening over Northern Ireland’s border and even the type of divorce Britain actually wants.
It came as the EU’s top negotiator warned that formal talks are set to be delayed, eating up more of the two-year divorce timetable.
Negotiations on the future relationship between Britain and the EU are now less likely to start in October due to a lack of progress at the initial stage of talks about the breakup, Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has told EU ambassadors.
Britain responded that it was confident that enough progress could be made to start the second stage of talks but as Prime Minister Theresa May holidayed in Italy, her ministers engaged in a public debate about how Brexit how should look.
Finance minister Philip Hammond, who opposed leaving the EU in last year’s referendum and has one eye on the business community, said there should be no immediate change to immigration or trading rules when Britain leaves.
A shift to new arrangements could last until mid-2022, he said in a BBC radio interview, adding that he wanted to avoid a cliff-edge. He stressed that British hospitals and care homes relied as much on EU migrant workers as many businesses.
“We’ve been clear that it will be some time before we are able to introduce full migration controls between the UK and the European Union,” he said.
May’s loss of her majority in the British parliament with a botched gamble on a snap election has prompted an apparent softening of rhetoric on Brexit. But some EU member state diplomats say it now hard to discern what Britain wants.
Britain has less than two years to negotiate the terms of the divorce and the outlines of the future relationship before it is due to leave in late March 2019. Both sides need an agreement to keep trade flowing between the world’s biggest trading bloc and the fifth largest global economy.
“In the immediate…