NEWS
01/02/2020 8:01 AM IST | Updated 01/02/2020 8:01 AM IST

Brexit Is Here: The UK Has Legally Left The European Union

Brexiteers partied in Parliament Square as the UK's 47-year membership to the EU came to an end.

Simon Dawson / Reuters
Pro-Brexit demonstrators celebrate on Parliament Square on Brexit day in London, Britain January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

It has finally happened – more than three-and-a-half years after voters backed Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum, the UK has officially left the European Union

At 11pm GMT, the UK’s 47-year-long membership to the EU came to an end.

In an address to the nation on Friday night to mark the moment, Boris Johnson – who was a key figure in the Vote Leave campaign – said the UK’s exit from the EU was “not an end but a beginning”. 

Despite “all its strengths” and admirable qualities, “the EU has evolved over 50 years in a direction that no longer suits this country”, the prime minister said. 

“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,” Johnson added.  

Brexiteers gathered in a Union Jack-lined Parliament Square for a party led by Nigel Farage to celebrate the UK leaving the EU. 

Revellers – who chanted “bye bye EU” and sang Rule Britannia – were addressed by a number of Brexit Party figures, including former MEP Ann Widdecombe, chairman Richard Tice and Farage himself. 

The Brexit Party leader told the crowd: “The people have beaten the establishment. 

“The real winner tonight is democracy. And I am someone who believes we should be pro-Europe, but not the European Union.”

With Big Ben undergoing repairs and unable to ring to mark Brexit, revellers brought their own ‘Little Ben’ – a modified Victorian cart featuring a small church bell. 

As 11pm hit, party-goers were seen popping champagne corks to celebrate the moment the UK left the EU. 

Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Pro Brexit supporters gathered in Parliament Square to celebrate Brexit Day 

A ‘celebratory reception’ was also held at Number 10 – where a light show projected onto the building counted down to 11pm – for senior ministers, officials, and supporters of the Leave campaign. 

According to the BBC, Johnson’s guests were served English sparkling wine, beef and Yorkshire pudding canapés, fillet of lamb on toast and Shropshire blue cheese.

But not everyone was celebrating the UK’s departure. Hundreds of pro-EU campaigners gathered at the Angel of Peace Statue in Hove. Carrying EU flags, demonstrators lit candles and sang Ode to Joy, the European anthem. 

In Scotland – where 62% of voters backed Remain – rallies and candlelit vigils took place across the country, while government buildings St Andrew’s House and Victoria Quay were lit up in the colours of the EU flag. 

PA Wire/PA Images
St Andrew's House, a Scottish Government building in Edinburgh, illuminated in the colours of the European flag on Brexit day 

While January 31 will go down in the history books as the moment Brexit officially happened, very little will change in the day-to-day lives of people in Britain in 2020. 

This is because the UK has now entered the ‘transition period’, which is set to last until December 31.

Read more: Here’s what will happen in Britain now Brexit has happened. 

During this 11-month period – which has been designed to allow the UK and EU to negotiate what their future relationship will look like – the UK will remain in the European single market and customs union. 

Meanwhile, EU laws will also still apply until the end of the transition and freedom of movement will continue. 

However, UK leaders will be able to start negotiating free trade deals with other countries. Britain will also no longer have seats in the European Parliament, Commission or Council. 

On Friday night, the British flag was removed from its pole outside the European parliament in Brussels and replaced with an EU flag. 

In a tweet, former PM Theresa May – whose own Brexit deal was rejected three times by parliament – said: “After more than three years, we can finally say we have delivered on the result of the 2016 referendum and have kept faith with the British people.”  

French president Emmanuel Macron said Brexit was an “alarm signal” which should be heard across the EU. 

“At midnight, for the first time in 70 years, a country will leave the European Union,” he said. “It is a historic alarm signal that must be heard in each of our countries.”

Meanwhile, former European Council president Donald Tusk tweeted: “My dear British friends. We were, we are, and we will always be a community. And no Brexit will ever change that.”