At midnight Brussels time on Friday, British flags were removed from EU offices, and the EU flag was lowered on the British premises, marking the nation’s official departure from the EU and ending its 47-year membership.
“For many people, this is an astonishing moment of hope, a moment they thought would never come,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Last week, European Council President Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, signed the U.K.’s withdrawal agreement.
EU legislators overwhelmingly voted to approve the agreement on Wednesday. The EU is now bidding farewell to 15 per cent of its economy, its biggest military spender and the city of London, the world’s international financial capital.
“We will always love you and you will never be far,” von der Leyen said on Wednesday.
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“Things will inevitably change but our friendship will remain,” Michel wrote in a post on Twitter. “Look forward to writing this new page together.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government is “very confident” there will minimal disruptions related to trade, investment and other ties between Canada and the U.K following Brexit.
In a tweet posted Saturday morning, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said as a “friend, partner and ally” of the U.K., Canada “looks forward to continuing to work closely in support of the rules-based international order.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said that Brexit should prompt changes within the EU.
“It’s a sad day, let’s not hide it,” he said. “But it is a day that must also lead us to do things differently.”
Britain’s departure comes almost four years after a narrow majority of Britons voted in favour of leaving the EU.
During the 2016 referendum, 17.4 million respondents — or 52 per cent — opted to leave the pact. Forty-eight per cent voted to remain.
The logjam was finally broken last month when Johnson’s Conservative Party won the Dec. 12, 2019 election and formed a majority government.
The victory allowed the party to override objections and amendments to the bill from the opposition, and lawmakers ultimately approved it on Jan. 9, 2020.
The bill received royal assent from Queen Elizabeth II and was signed into law last week.
After the royal assent was announced, Johnson told reporters that “at times,” it felt as though the U.K. would “never cross the Brexit finish line.”
“But we’ve done it,” he said.
The British government marked the momentous occasion on Friday with elaborate celebrations.
“January 31st is a significant moment in our history as the United Kingdom leaves the EU and regains its independence,” the government said in a statement announcing the Brexit celebrations.
“The government intends to use this as a moment to heal divisions, reunite communities and look forward to the country that we want to build over the next decade.”
Initially, the government sought to have Big Ben ring at 11 p.m. Brussels time, however after failing to come up with the funds, the idea was abandoned.
Meanwhile, Brexit Party Leader Nigel Farage held his own celebration at Parliament Square in London.
But not everyone is celebrating.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called Brexit a moment of “profound sadness.”
After the bill received royal assent, Scottish National Party lawmaker Ian Blackford said the U.K. was experiencing a “constitutional crisis” because the legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland did not back the bill.
On Wednesday, ahead of the EU vote, German Social Democratic Party member Tiemo Woelken called it an “incredible sad and painful moment.”
“We’ll wait for your return to our European family,” Woelken said.
What happens next?
While some are celebrating, the work is far from complete. Now that the U.K. has officially left the EU, it’s back to the negotiating table.
Both the U.K. and the EU now need to decide what their future relationship will be moving forward.
This will ultimately be worked out during what is called the “implementation period,” which is expected to last until Dec. 31, 2020.
During this time, things will stay largely the same.
For instance, the old rules for travel to and from the EU will stand, citizens will retain the right to live and work in the EU and free trade between the U.K. and the EU will continue as usual.
What’s more, while in the transitional period, the European Court of Justice will still be responsible for settling legal disputes.
However, the U.K. has now forfeited membership to the union’s institutions, including the European Parliament and the European Commission, and has lost its voting rights.
At the top of the list once negotiations start will be establishing a new free trade agreement.
Britain has expressed its desire to end the transitional period as soon as possible and would like to come to a full trade deal within the next 11 months.
The EU, though, has said such a time span is far too short to develop a comprehensive deal.
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Other items, including security, data sharing and rules for travel, will also need to be ironed out during this time.
Johnson has given few clues about what the future holds, promising only to restore confidence for people and businesses.
“We’ll be out of the EU, free to chart our own course as a sovereign nation,” he said.
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters