The United Kingdom has officially left the European Union, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling the moment “the dawn of a new era.”
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised Brexit will bring “renewal” to the country
- London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that European neighbours remain “friends and allies”
- EU powerhouse Germany says Brexit negotiations will not be easy
As of 11:00pm (local time), the drawn-out Brexit process formally entered a transition period, where current EU rules and regulations will remain in place while the two sides negotiate a new relationship on a wide range of issues from trade to security.
Mr Johnson has ruled out extending the transition period beyond 2020.
Supporters of Brexit see the move as the country regaining full control over its destiny. But opponents say it is a big setback for peace and prosperity in Europe.
Mr Johnson addressed the country in a pre-recorded message an hour before formal departure, saying Brexit was not an ending, “but a beginning” for the UK.
“For many people, this is an astonishing moment of hope, a moment they thought would never come,” Mr Johnson, one of the leaders of the “Leave” campaign in the 2016 referendum on EU membership, said.
“And there are many, of course, who feel a sense of anxiety and loss.
“And then there’s a third group, perhaps the biggest, who had started to worry that the whole political wrangle would never come to an end.
“I understand all those feelings and our job as the Government, my job, is to bring this country together now and take us forward.”
He described the UK’s exit from the EU as “a moment of real national renewal and change”, where “we no longer accept that your life chances, your family’s life chances, should depend on which part of the country you grow up in.”
“This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act in our great national drama.”
Brexit supporters celebrate
In London, red, white and blue lights illuminated government buildings and a countdown clock projected onto the Mr Johnson’s Downing Street residence as pro and anti-Brexit supporters gathered in the city.
In Parliament Square, arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage gathered a crowd of several thousand who belted out the patriotic song Land of Hope and Glory as they awaited a moment that even Mr Farage sometimes doubted would ever come.
Londoner Donna Jones said she had come to “be part of history”.
“It doesn’t mean we’re anti-Europe, it just means we want to be self-sufficient in a certain way,” she said.
But Britons who cherished their membership in the bloc — and the freedom it bought to live anywhere across of 28 countries — were mourning.
“Many of us want to just mark our sadness in public,” said Ann Jones, who joined dozens of other remainers on a march to the EU’s mission in London.
“And we don’t want trouble, we just want to say, well you know, ‘We didn’t want this’.”
Earlier, a Brexit supporter burned a European Union flag beside Downing Street as others jeered at pro-EU demonstrators in the final hours before the UK left the bloc.
About 200-300 pro-European Union supporters were mocked by pro-Brexit supporters as they walked from Downing Street to the office of the European Commission in London.
Police formed a line to keep the two groups apart. The pro-Brexit supporters were singing “shame on you, shame on you”, “losers, losers” and “bye, bye EU” to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.
“Happy Brexit Day! … At last, the day comes when we break free,” Mr Farage tweeted.
“A massive victory for the people against the establishment … 11 pm tonight marks the point of no return.”
‘Heartbroken’ over Brexit
“Britain’s place in the world will change. The question is what direction we now take,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said before the official exit.
“We can build a truly internationalist, diverse and outward-looking Britain. Or we can turn inwards, and trade our principles, rights and standards to secure hastily arranged, one-sided, race-to-the-bottom trade deals with Donald Trump and others.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called it a “moment of profound sadness for many of us across the UK”.
“Here in Scotland, given that it is happening against the will of the vast majority of us, that sadness will be tinged with anger,” she said.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was “heartbroken” about Britain’s departure from the EU and wanted to reassure European citizens living in the British capital they are valued friends and family members.
“I’m of the generation who has seen our European neighbours as friends and allies,” he said.
“The key thing I’m determined to make sure happens is, going forward, we will carry on as a city being open-minded, out-looking, pluralistic and welcoming to our EU friends,” Mr Khan added.
Mr Khan has long argued that Britain would be better off remaining inside the EU and said that he was proud Londoners overwhelmingly voted to remain in the 2016 referendum.
He also rebuffed speculation that London would work to become a lightly regulated tax haven in the post-Brexit era.
The head of Gibraltar’s Government, meanwhile, said it would “forever live in history as a very sad day”.
Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabien Picardo said the speck of British territory on Spain’s southern tip is departing the EU “with a heavy heart, with sadness.”
In the UK’s 2016 Brexit referendum, 96 per cent of voters in Gibraltar supported remaining in the EU.
Mr Picardo attended a brief midnight ceremony on the border with Spain, when the EU flag will be lowered and the British Commonwealth flag raised.
European leaders react
In Brussels, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen lamented that “as the sun rises tomorrow a new chapter for our union of 27 will start”.
She warned Brexit day would mark a major loss for the UK and said the island nation is heading for a lonelier existence.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michael Barner said: “My thoughts go the millions of British citizens who are sad, as we are sad today”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said negotiations on Britain’s future relationship with the bloc will not be easy and vowed to help make the EU successful after Brexit.
Ms Merkel said in a video message released by her office that Britain’s departure “is a deep break for us all, the 27 European Union member states and for Germany.”
She stressed that “Germany wants to remain a close partner and friend of Britain because we are united by common values.”
Nevertheless, Ms Merkel said that “the European Union is going into these negotiations in good spirit but also representing its own interests, and Britain will do the same”.
French President Emmanuel Macron called Brexit a “historic alarm signal” that should force the EU to improve itself.
“It’s a sad day, let’s not hide it,” he said in a televised address. “But it is a day that must also lead us to do things differently”.