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Brexit is final — U.K. formally leaves EU 3 years after referendum

Click to play video 'Mixed emotions on UK’s final day in the European Union' Mixed emotions on UK’s final day in the European Union
WATCH: Mixed emotions on UK's final day in the European Union – Jan 31, 2020

More than three and a half years after Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU), Brexit has finally happened.

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.

READ MORE: EU Parliament approves Brexit agreement days before deadline

“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.

Click to play video 'U.K. celebrates in London as the clock hits Brexit hour for leaving the EU' U.K. celebrates in London as the clock hits Brexit hour for leaving the EU
U.K. celebrates in London as the clock hits Brexit hour for leaving the EU – Jan 31, 2020

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.

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“We will always love you and you will never be far,” von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Brexit is official. Here’s what happens next

“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.

“We have been engaged with the United Kingdom over the past few years, working on that transition plan, to make sure the very important trade numbers between Canada and the [U.K.] are not disrupted at all,” Trudeau said Friday.
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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.”

Click to play video 'Boris Johnson says U.K. departure from EU is ‘new act’ for country' Boris Johnson says U.K. departure from EU is ‘new act’ for country
Boris Johnson says U.K. departure from EU is ‘new act’ for country – Jan 31, 2020

Britain’s departure comes almost four years after a narrow majority of Britons voted in favour of leaving the EU.

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During the 2016 referendum, 17.4 million respondents — or 52 per cent — opted to leave the pact. Forty-eight per cent voted to remain.

READ MORE: Britain fights over Big Ben as plans to celebrate Brexit divide country

What followed was years of negotiations, wherein U.K. lawmakers repeatedly defeated attempts from then-prime minister Theresa May and her successor Johnson to push through the Brexit legislation.

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.

Click to play video 'One English town’s push to leave the European Union' One English town’s push to leave the European Union
One English town’s push to leave the European Union – Jan 31, 2020

The bill received royal assent from Queen Elizabeth II and was signed into law last week.

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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.

Click to play video 'Brexit: U.K. union jack flag removed from European Council' Brexit: U.K. union jack flag removed from European Council
Brexit: U.K. union jack flag removed from European Council – Jan 31, 2020

Celebrations

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.

Click to play video 'Boris Johnson discusses post-Brexit relationship with EU head' Boris Johnson discusses post-Brexit relationship with EU head
Boris Johnson discusses post-Brexit relationship with EU head – Jan 8, 2020

“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.”

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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.

Click to play video 'Brexit supporters sing ‘We Are the Champions’ before counting down to U.K. departure' Brexit supporters sing ‘We Are the Champions’ before counting down to U.K. departure
Brexit supporters sing ‘We Are the Champions’ before counting down to U.K. departure – Jan 31, 2020

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.

Click to play video '‘Mr Brexit’ Nigel Farage celebrates with supporters at Leave party as U.K. departs EU' ‘Mr Brexit’ Nigel Farage celebrates with supporters at Leave party as U.K. departs EU
‘Mr Brexit’ Nigel Farage celebrates with supporters at Leave party as U.K. departs EU – Jan 31, 2020

On Wednesday, ahead of the EU vote, German Social Democratic Party member Tiemo Woelken called it an “incredible sad and painful moment.”

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“We’ll wait for your return to our European family,” Woelken said.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson faces criticism on Brexit ahead of key meetings with French, Germany

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.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill approved, making way for Britain to leave EU

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.

Click to play video 'U.K. lawmakers approve Brexit bill, departure planned for Jan. 31' U.K. lawmakers approve Brexit bill, departure planned for Jan. 31
U.K. lawmakers approve Brexit bill, departure planned for Jan. 31 – Jan 9, 2020

What’s more, while in the transitional period, the European Court of Justice will still be responsible for settling legal disputes.

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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.

Click to play video 'Brexit: U.K. officially leaves EU, not much to change for at least 11 months' Brexit: U.K. officially leaves EU, not much to change for at least 11 months
Brexit: U.K. officially leaves EU, not much to change for at least 11 months – Jan 31, 2020

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.

READ MORE: Confused? A guide to understanding Brexit

Other items, including security, data sharing and rules for travel, will also need to be ironed out during this time.

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Johnson has given few clues about what the future holds, promising only to restore confidence for people and businesses.

Click to play video 'The road ahead for Brexit in 2020' The road ahead for Brexit in 2020
The road ahead for Brexit in 2020 – Jan 5, 2020

“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