Britain on Friday ended almost half a century of European Union membership, making a historic exit after years of bitter arguments to chart its own uncertain path in the world.
Thousands of people waving Union Jack flags packed London’s Parliament Square to mark the moment of Brexit at 11 p.m. (2300 GMT) — midnight in Brussels. Some pro-Europeans, including many of the 3.6 million EU citizens who made their lives in Britain, marked the occasion with solemn candlelit vigils.
Brexit has also provoked soul-searching in the EU about its own future after losing 66 million people, a global diplomatic big-hitter and the clout of the City of London financial centre.
In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson — a figurehead in the seismic 2016 referendum vote for Brexit — acknowledged there might be “bumps in the road ahead”. But he said Britain could make it a “stunning success”. Johnson predicted a “new era of friendly cooperation” with the EU while Britain takes a greater role on the world stage.
Britain’s departure was sealed in an emotional vote in the EU parliament this week that ended with MEPs singing “Auld Lang Syne”, a traditional Scottish song of farewell.
Almost nothing will change straight away, because of an 11-month transition period negotiated as part of the exit deal. Britons will be able to work in and trade freely with EU nations until Dec. 31, and vice versa, although the UK will no longer be represented in the bloc’s institutions. But legally, Britain is out.