Celebrations, vigils mark UK’s exit from EU
By : Aditi Khanna
London, Feb 1 : The UK’s divorce from the European Union has come into force over three years after the landmark Brexit vote, making it the first country to exit the economic bloc after 47 years of membership, triggering celebrations across the country to mark the historic moment.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the historic moment as the dawn of a new era for the UK in his address to the nation just before Brexit.
Brexit came into force at 2300 GMT on Friday.
“This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act in our great national drama,” said Johnson, in his video message which promised hope and opportunity to every part of the United Kingdom.
“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.
A party at Parliament Square and a light display count down at Downing Street marked the historic moment, while elsewhere in the country there were some anti-Brexit rallies.
“Let us celebrate tonight as we have never done before. This is the greatest moment in the modern history of our great nation,” said Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit party and someone who has campaigned incessantly for the UK to leave the EU.
Brexit parties were also held in pubs and social clubs across the UK as the country counted down to the official departure, with lower key anti-Brexit events in some parts of the country which had voted to remain in the referendum.
Parts of Scotland, which had voted to remain in the EU in the June 2016 referendum, held candlelight vigils to express its opposition to being dragged out of the bloc along with the rest of the UK. It has revived calls for another independence referendum to be able to vote on its union with Britain.
Police in London arrested four men and also charged one man with criminal damage and being drunk and disorderly, while one arrest was made in Glasgow.
While there will be little change instantly as the UK and the 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.
Johnson was keen to highlight his vision of a friendly negotiation process for both sides to thrash out a new trading relationship as the beginning of a “new era of friendly cooperation” between the EU and an energetic Britain.
Celebrating the UK’s “recaptured sovereignty” to deliver the changes the June 2016 referendum vote signified, he noted: “Whether that is by controlling immigration or creating freeports or liberating our fishing industry or doing free trade deals is the right and healthy and democratic thing to do.”
On a critical note on the EU’s evolution over the period of the UK’s membership, he added: “Because for all its strengths and for all its admirable qualities, the EU has evolved over 50 years in a direction that no longer suits this country.”
“And that is a judgment that you, the people, have now confirmed at the polls,” he said.
The Conservative Party leader took charge at Downing Street last year with a “no ifs, no buts” pledge to leave the EU.
His General Election campaign pegged around the “Get Brexit Done” message last December won him a thumping majority, after which Britain’s exit from the bloc became a certainty as his Brexit bill easily crossed the parliamentary hurdle.
Acknowledging the long-drawn divorce process and the deep Remain versus Brexit divide within the UK, Johnson said: “Tonight we are leaving the European Union. For many people this is an astonishing moment of hope, a moment they thought would never come and there are many of course who feel a sense of anxiety and loss.
I understand all those feelings, and our job as the government my job is to bring this country together now and take us forward.”
As part of that forward-looking agenda, the government kicked off its “GREAT Ready to Trade” campaign across 13 countries, including India, from Saturday.
Johnson has repeatedly committed himself to a “new and improved” trading relationship with India and now as a non-member of the EU, the UK is free to push ahead with those talks unrestricted by the economic bloc’s rules.
A new commemorative 50-pence coin reading “peace prosperity and friendship to all nations” has gone into circulation and the Union Jack flag has been removed from all EU institutions.