Brexit: Britain bids goodbye to EU, steps into a ‘new dawn’
EU's most powerful leaders -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron -- cast Brexit as “a sad moment that was a turning point for Europe”. The EU warned that leaving would be worse than staying.
The UK has finally left the European Union for an uncertain future after 47 years of membership and over three years after it voted to do so in a referendum. The historic moment was marked by both celebrations and anti-Brexit protests. Brexit came into force at 11.00 pm (2300 GMT) on Friday.
In an address to the nation just before Brexit, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed “the dawn of a new era”.
"This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act in our great national drama. It is not just about some legal extrication. It is potentially a moment of real national renewal and change.
“This is the dawn of a new era in which 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," he said.
Candlelit vigils were held in Scotland, which voted to stay in the EU. At 2300 GMT, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted a picture of the EU flag, adding: "Scotland will return to the heart of Europe as an independent country - #LeaveALightOnForScotland".
While there will be little change instantly as the UK and EU enter into a pre-agreed period of transition from Saturday until the end of December, the process of complete extrication from the now 27-member economic bloc will begin right away.
How the UK marked the moment?
Hundreds of flag-waving Brexit supporters gathered in Parliament Square to celebrate. They sang patriotic songs and cheered speeches from leading Brexiteers, including Nigel Farage.
"The war is over: we have won," Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage told the crowd. "This is the single most important moment in the modern history of our great nation."
Some sang "God Save the Queen", while others hugged amid the smoke of fireworks.
On the white cliffs of Dover, the message: "The UK has left the EU" was projected between a British and an EU flag.
Prime Minister Johnson, the New York-born leader of the official "Leave" campaign, celebrated in Downing Street with English sparkling wine and a distinctly British array of canapés including Shropshire blue cheese and Yorkshire puddings with beef and horseradish.
Brexit parties were held in pubs and social clubs across the UK as the country counted down to its official departure.
Other symbolic moments on a day of mixed emotions included: The Union flag being removed from the European Union institutions in Brussels, the Cabinet meeting in Sunderland, the first city to declare in favour of Brexit when the 2016 results were announced.
A 50p coin to mark the occasion entered circulation.
Once considered the unlikely dream of a motley crew of "eurosceptics" on the fringes of British politics, Brexit also weakens the EU, conceived as a way to bind together Europe's major powers in peace after centuries of conflict.
A sad moment, turning point for Europe?
The EU's most powerful leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, cast Brexit as “a sad moment that was a turning point for Europe”. The EU warned that leaving would be worse than staying.
US President Donald Trump has long supported Brexit. His Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Britons wanted to escape the "tyranny of Brussels".
Brexit also diminishes the EU. At the stroke of midnight in Brussels, the bloc lost 15% of its economy, its biggest military spender and the world's international financial capital, London.
For proponents, Brexit is "independence day" -- an escape from what they cast as a German-dominated project with a doomed single currency that is failing its 500 million people.
They hope departure will herald reforms to reshape Britain and propel it ahead of its European rivals.
Opponents say Brexit is a folly that will weaken the West, torpedo what is left of Britain's global clout, undermine its economy and ultimately leave it a less cosmopolitan set of islands.
Johnson has promised to strike a broad free trade agreement with the EU, the world's biggest trading bloc, though Merkel and Macron have warned that leaving will be harder than staying.
The Brexit referendum exposed deep internal divisions and triggered soul-searching about everything from immigration to empire and modern Britishness.
It has tested the very fabric of what now looks a disunited kingdom: England and Wales voted to leave but Scotland and Northern Ireland wanted to stay. The strains could hasten another referendum on Scottish independence and even a push for a united Ireland, Reuters reported.
"We've had enough of the European Union, we don't want it," said Adrian Langshaw, 42. "We want to be a sovereign nation and live as a British nation, make our decisions, make our rules and live how we want."