Britain Leaves the European Union, Leaps Into the Unknown

LONDON—So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu.

With little fanfare, Britain left the European Union on Friday after 47 years of membership, taking a leap into the unknown in a historic blow to the bloc.

The UKs departure became official at 11 p.m. (2300GMT), midnight in Brussels, where the EU is headquartered. Thousands of enthusiastic Brexit supporters gathered outside Britains Parliament to welcome the moment theyd longed for since Britains 52 percent–48 percent vote in June 2016 to walk away from the club it had joined in 1973. The flag-waving crowd erupted in cheers as Big Ben bonged 11 times—on a recording. Parliaments real bell has been silenced for repairs.

Britain Brexit
Britain Brexit
An image of the clock face of Big Ben is projected onto the exterior of 10 Downing street, the residence of the British Prime Minister, in London as Britain left the European Union on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Photo)

In a message from nearby 10 Downing St., Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Britains departure “a moment of real national renewal and change.”

But many Britons mourned the loss of their EU identity, and some marked the passing with tearful vigils. There was also sadness in Brussels as British flags were quietly removed from the blocs many buildings.

Whether Brexit makes Britain a proud nation that has reclaimed its sovereignty, or a diminished presence in Europe and the world, will be debated for years to come.

While Britains exit is a historical moment, it only marks the end of the first stage of the Brexit saga. When Britons wake up on Saturday, they will notice very little change. The UK and the EU have given themselves an 11-month “transition period”—in which the U.K. will continue to follow the blocs rules—to strike new agreements on trade, security, and a host of other areas.

The now 27–member EU will have to bounce back from one of the biggest setbacks in its 62–year history to confront an ever more complicated world as its former member becomes a competitor, just across the English Channel.

French President Emmanuel Macron called Brexit a “historic alarm signal” that should force the EU to improve itself.

“Its a sad day, lets not hide it,” he said in a televised address. “But it is a day that must also lead us to do things differently.”

He insisted that European citizens need a united Europe “more than ever” to defend their interests in the face of China and the United States, to cope with climate change and migration and technological upheaval.

In the many EU buildings of Brussels on Friday, British flags were quietly lowered, folded and taken away. This is the first time a country has left the EU, and many in the bloc rued the day. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen lamented that “as the sun rises tomorrow, a new chapter for our union of 27 will start.”

But she warned Brexit day would mark a major loss for the U.K. and said the island nation was heading for a lonelier existence.

“Strength does not lie in splendid isolation, but in our unique union,” she said.

Johnson insisted post-Brexit Britain would be “simultaneously a great European power and truly global in our range and ambitions.”

“We want this to be the beginning of a new era of friendly cooperation between the EU and an energetic Britain,” Johnson said in a pre-recorded address to the country broadcast an hour before Britains exit.

In a break with usual practice, independent media outlets were not allowed to film Johnsons speech, which the government recorded Thursday at 10 Downing St.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Brexit supporters celebrate during a rally in London on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. (Frank Augstein/AP Photo)

Johnson won an election victory in December with a dual promise to “get Brexit done” and deliver improved jobs, infrastructure, and services for Britains most deprived areas, where support for leaving the EU is strongest. On Friday, he symbolically held a Cabinet meeting in the pro-Brexit town of Sunderland in northeast England, rather than in London.

Johnson is a Brexit enthusiast, but he knows many Britons arent, and his Conservative government sought to mark the moment with quiet dignity. Red, white, and blue lights illuminated government buildings and a countdown clock projected onto the prime ministers Downing Street residence.

Britain Brexit
Britain Brexit
People draped in UK flags walk across Parliament Square during rainfall in London, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Photo)

There was no such restraint in nearby Parliament Square, where arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage gathered a crowd of several thousand. They belted out the patriotic song “Land of Hope and Glory” as they waited for the moment that even Farage sometimes doubted would ever come.

“This is the single most important moment in the modern history of our great nation,” Farage told the crowd.

“The war is over,” said Farage, who often describes Britains relationship with Europe in martial terms. “We have won.”

Londoner Donna Jones said she had come to “be part of history.”

“It doesnt mean were anti-Europe, it just means we want to be self-sufficient in a certain way,” she said.

Britons who cherished their membership in the bloc—and the freedom it bought to live anywhere across 28 countries—were in mourning.

“Many of us want to just mark our sadness in public,” said Ann Jones, who joined dozens of other mourners on a march to the EUs mission in London.

“And we dont want trouble. We just want to say, well, you know, we didnt want this.”

Britains journey to Brexit has been long, rocky—and its far from over.

The UK was never a wholehearted EU member, but leaving the bloc was long coRead More – Source