History was made as Britain becomes the first country to quit the European Union after 47 years in the club, leaving 27 member states that will now regard it as a third country.
Britain officially left the European Union on Friday – the last three dominated by wrangling over when and how the kingdom would eventually leave.
Emotions were running high as the EU’s often reluctant member becomes the first to leave an organisation set up to forge unity among nations after the horrors of World War II.
Thousands of people waving Union Jack flags packed London’s Parliament Square to celebrate the moment of Brexit at 11 p.m., and one Brexit supporter set fire to an EU flag.
Parties were also held in working men’s club s in northern England, while pro-Europeans marked the occasion with more solemn candlelit vigils.
Brexit has exposed deep divisions in British society, and away from celebrations, many fear the consequences of ending 47 years of ties with their nearest neighbours.
It has also provoked soul-searching in the EU about its own future after losing 66 million people, a global diplomatic big-hitter and the clout of the City of London financial centre.
‘Not an end, a beginning’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a figurehead in the seismic 2016 referendum vote for Brexit, acknowledged there might be “bumps in the road ahead” but said Britain could make it a “stunning success.”
Johnson has promised to unite the island nation in a new era of prosperity, predicting a “new era of friendly cooperation” with the EU while Britain takes a greater role on the world stage.
“The most important thing to say tonight is that this is not an end but a beginning,” he said in a televised address.
EU institutions began removing red, white and blue Union flags in Brussels ahead of a divorce that German Chancellor Angela Merkel called a “sea-change” for the bloc.
French President Emmanuel Macron described it as a “historic warning sign” that should force the EU and its remaining nations of more than 440 million people to stop and reflect.
Britain’s departure was sealed in an emotional vote in the EU parliament this week that ended with MEPs singing “Auld Lang Syne”, a traditional Scottish song of farewell.
But almost nothing will change straight away, because of an 11-month transition period negotiated as part of the exit deal.
Britons will be able to work in and trade freely with EU nations until December 31, and vice versa, although the UK will no longer be represented in the bloc’s institutions.
But legally, Britain is out.
And while the divorce terms have been agreed, Britain must still strike a deal on future relations with the EU, its largest trading partner.
Both will set out their negotiating positions Monday.
“We want to have the best possible relationship with the United Kingdom, but it will never be as good as membership,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in Brussels.
US will keep building on ‘strong’ ties with UK – Pompeo
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday the United States would keep building “strong” ties with Britain following its departure from the European Union.
“I am pleased the UK and EU have agreed on a #Brexit deal that honours the will of the British people,” he tweeted.
“We will continue building upon our strong, productive, and prosperous relationship with the UK as they enter this next chapter,” Pompeo added.
I am pleased the UK and EU have agreed on a #Brexit deal that honors the will of the British people. We will continue building upon our strong, productive, and prosperous relationship with the UK as they enter this next chapter.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 31, 2020
Years of tumult
Getting this far has been a traumatic process.
Britain resisted many EU projects over the years, refusing to join the single currency or the Schengen open travel area, and eurosceptics have long complained about Brussels bureaucracy.
Worries about mass migration added further fuel to the Brexit campaign while for some, the 2016 vote was a chance to punish the government for years of cuts to public spending.
But the res ult was still a huge shock.
It unleashed political chaos, sparking years of bitter arguments that paralysed parliament and forced the resignations of prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May.
Johnson brought an end to the turmoil with last month’s decisive election victory which gave him the parliamentary majority he needed to ratify his Brexit deal.
But Britons remain as divided as they were nearly four years ago, when 52 percent voted to leave and 48 percent voted to remain in the EU.
In Scotland, where a majority voted to stay in 2016, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called it a moment of “sadness… tinged with anger.”
She vowed to step up the campaign for Scottish independence, which Scots rejected in a 2014 vote.
In Northern Ireland, where there are fears Brexit could destabilise a hard-won peace after decades of conflict over British rule, a billboard read: “This island rejects Brexit.”
‘Glad it’s over’
Johnson, who remains a polarising figure, has avoided any big official celebrations that might exacerbate divisions.
He hosted a special cabinet meeting in the northeastern city of Sunderland, which was the first to declare for Brexit in 2016.
He later welcomed staff, government advisers and Brexit supporters at a private party at Downing Street, serving British-themed canapes and English sparkling wine.
Government buildings were lit up in the red, white and blue of the British flag, while millions of commemorative 50 pence coins have also been minted.
Thousands flocked to a rally in Parliament Square organised by ex-MEP Nigel Farage, who has spent decades campaigning to leave the EU.
At a “Big Brexit Bash” in Morley, northern England, Raymond Stott described the four years since the referendum as “a right cock-up”.
“I am just glad it’s all over. We will look after ourselves. We don’t need Europe,” said the 66-year-old.
Vigils were also held by pro-EU supporters, including some of the 3.6 million Europeans living in Britain, and one million British expatriates, who benefited from the bloc’s free movement laws.
“Today is a day of mourning,” said Katrina Graham, 31, an Irish women’s rights activist who lives in Brussels, at a protest in central London.
Trade talks loom
From Saturday, Britain will be free to strike trade deals around the world, including with the United States.
Johnson has given himself just 11 months to negotiate a new partnership with the EU, covering everything from trade to security cooperation – despite warnings this is not enough time.
He also discussed with his ministers on Friday an aim to get 80 percent of Britain’s commerce covered by free trade agreements within three years, a spokesman said.
US President Donald Trump is an enthusiastic supporter of Brexit, and his envoy to London on Friday hailed an “exciting new era”.
“America shares your optimism and excitement about the many opportunities the future will bring,” ambassador Woody Johnson said.