People celebrate in Parliament Square on Brexit day in London, Britain, January 31, 2020. (Reuters)
LONDON – The United Kingdom finally cast off from the European Union (EU) on Friday for an uncertain future, with Brexiteers claiming victory and popping champagne corks for an “independence day” they said marked a new era for the country.
In its biggest shift since losing its global empire, the United Kingdom slipped away at 2300 GMT, turning its back after 47 years on the post-World War Two project that sought to build the ruined nations of Europe into a global power.
Beside the British parliament, flag-waving Brexit supporters cheered, revelling in a mix of nostalgia, patriotism and defiance. Some sang “God Save the Queen”, while others hugged amid the smoke of fireworks.
“The war is over: we have won,” Nigel Farage, a leading Leave campaigner, told the crowd. “This is the single most important moment in the modern history of our great nation.”
On the white cliffs of Dover, the message: “The UK has left the EU” was projected between a British and an EU flag.
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.
When the exit day finally came, after 3-1/2 years of wrangling since the 2016 referendum, it was an anticlimax of sorts: while Brexiteers waving flags toasted freedom in the rain, many Britons showed indifference or relief.
“For many people, this is an astonishing moment of hope, a moment they thought would never come,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the New York-born leader of the official “Leave” campaign, said.
He 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.
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.
U.S. President Donald Trump has long supported Brexit. His Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Britons wanted to escape the “tyranny of Brussels”.
At EU headquarters in Brussels, the British flag was lowered. Little will change immediately, however, as a transition period keeps the United Kingdom as a member in all but name until the end of 2020. (Reuters)