Britain leaves the European Union with a mixture of joy, anger and indifference, casting off into the unknown in one of the biggest blows yet to Europe’s attempt to forge unity from the ruins of World War II.
The EU’s most powerful leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, cast Brexit as a sad moment that is a turning point for Europe.
The EU warned that leaving would be worse than staying.
In the UK’s most significant geopolitical move since it lost its empire, the country turns its back on 47 years of membership and must begin charting its own course for generations to come.
At the stroke of midnight in Brussels, the EU will lose 15 per cent of its economy, its biggest military spender and the world’s international financial capital – London.
A clock projected onto a British-flag themed Downing Street – Prime Minister Boris Johnson‘s residence – counted down the minutes.
Listen to Mamamia’s daily news podcast, The Quicky, explain exactly what Brexit is. Post continues below.
Several thousand Brexit supporters gathered outside the British parliament, many waving British and English flags as they sang Elgar’s “Land of Hope and Glory”.
“For many people, this is an astonishing moment of hope, a moment they thought would never come,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the “Leave” campaign in the 2016 referendum on EU membership. “This is the dawn of a new era.”
Johnson celebrated with English sparkling wine and a distinctly British array of canapes including Shropshire blue cheese and Yorkshire puddings with beef and horseradish.
In Brussels, Britain’s Union Jack was lowered at the EU council building and the bloc’s circle of 12 stars on a blue background was removed from outside the British embassy.
The final parting of the EU’s most reluctant member is an anticlimax of sorts, with little to change until the end of 2020.
By then, Johnson has promised to strike a broad free trade agreement with the EU, the world’s biggest trading bloc.
Merkel warned the negotiations “certainly won’t be easy”, cautioning London that if it deviated from the EU’s rules then its access to the EU’s market would be limited.
Macron said Britain could not expect to be treated the same way as when it was part of the club.
“You can’t be in and out,” Macron told the French in a televised address.
“The British people chose to leave the European Union. It won’t have the same obligations, so it will no longer have the same rights.”
Feature image: PA/Andrew Milligan.