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Brexit day: Britain quits EU and steps into transition twilight zone

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Nigel Farage celebrates inside the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, after MEPs voted overwhelmingly to back Boris Johnson's Brexit deal. PA Photo

Nigel Farage celebrates inside the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, after MEPs voted overwhelmingly to back Boris Johnson's Brexit deal. PA Photo

PA

Nigel Farage celebrates inside the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, after MEPs voted overwhelmingly to back Boris Johnson's Brexit deal. PA Photo

The United Kingdom formally leaves the European Union this evening for an uncertain Brexit future.

It marks a seismic blow to 70 years of efforts to forge European unity from the ruins of war. The UK will slip away an hour before midnight from the club it joined in 1973, moving into the no man's land of a transition period that preserves membership in all but name until the end of this year.

At a stroke, the EU will be deprived of 15pc of its economy, its biggest military spender and the world's international financial capital of London. The divorce will shape the fate of the United Kingdom - and determine its wealth - for generations to come.

"This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act," Prime Minister Boris Johnson claims, though he has given few clues about his post-Brexit plans beyond inspirational words.

"This is the dawn of a new era," Johnson added.

Beyond the symbolism of turning its back on 47 years of membership, little will actually change until the end of 2020, by which time Johnson has promised to strike a broad free trade agreement with the EU, the world's biggest trading bloc.

For proponents, Brexit is a dream "independence day" for a United Kingdom escaping what they cast as a doomed German-dominated project that is failing its 500 million population.

Opponents believe Brexit is a folly that will weaken the West, torpedo what is left of the United Kingdom's global clout, undermine its economy and ultimately lead to a more insular and less cosmopolitan set of islands in the northern Atlantic.

Dis-united Kingdom

Brexit was always about much than Europe. The June 2016 Brexit referendum showed a divided and triggered soul-searching about everything from secession and immigration to empire and modern Britishness.

Such was the severity of the Brexit meltdown that allies and investors were left astonished by a country that was for decades touted as a confident pillar of Western political stability.

At home, Brexit has tested the bonds that bind together the United Kingdom: England and Wales voted to leave the bloc but Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay. Scotland's First Minister will use the moment to spell out her next steps towards holding a second independence referendum with a poll on Thursday suggesting a slim majority of Scots would now back a split because of Brexit.

So on "Brexit Day", some will celebrate and some will weep - but many Britons will do neither. Many are simply happy that more than three years of tortuous political wrangling over the divorce are over.

"I did not vote for it and I did not want it to happen, but now I just want it over," said Judith Miller, a resident of London. "I am tired, I have had enough, I am sick of it on the news and we are just going to have to deal with it."

'New Dawn'

It is unclear how Brexit will play out for either the United Kingdom or the European Union.

Brexiteers hope 'independence' will herald democratic and economic reforms that will reshape the United Kingdom, propelling it ahead of its European rivals which they say are chained to the doomed euro.

Johnson will chair a cabinet meeting in Sunderland, the first city to declare support for leaving the EU in the June 2016 referendum. Brexiteers will celebrate on Parliament Square while some opponents of Brexit are also due to gather.

A Union Jack in the building of the European Council in Brussels will be lowered at 7 p.m. on Friday, and put away with the flags of non-EU countries.

The anti-Brexit campaign group Led By Donkeys have projected a video message to Europe onto the White Cliffs on Dover on the morning of Britain's final day in the EU. The clip includes quotes from British war veterans voicing their disappointment at the prospect of Brexit.

Reuters