History As Britain Finally Leaves EU

Britain has finally left the EU, ushering in a healing process to bring the country back together after Brexit.

The UK is waking up to its first full day as a non-EU member in 47 years after formally leaving the bloc at 11pm.

Nearly four years after voters decided by 52% to 48% to quit, politicians from all sides called on Leavers and Remainers to set aside their differences, as the nation immediately entered an 11-month transition.

An hour before Britain’s exit, Boris Johnson, who led the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, said in a pre-recorded TV address: “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.

“And then of course there is a third group – perhaps the biggest – who had started to worry that the whole political wrangle would never come to an end.

“I understand all those feelings and our job as the Government – my job – is to bring this country together now and take us forward.”

He added: “When I look at the potential of this country waiting to be unleashed I know that we can turn this opportunity into a stunning success – and whatever the bumps in the road ahead, I know that we will succeed.

“We have obeyed the people, we have taken back the tools of self-government.

“Now is the time to use those tools to unleash the full potential of this brilliant country and to make better the lives of everyone in every corner of our United Kingdom.”

Outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbynsaid: “The choice of which path we take for a post-Brexit Britain now lies before us.

“Whatever side we took in the Brexit debate we now need to bring the country together to shape our common future.”

Earlier, the Prime Minister held a symbolic Cabinet meeting in Sunderland – the first city to announce its referendum result after the vote on June 23, 2016.

Later, Mr Johnson flew back to London to host a low-key reception in Downing Street.

Guests included Cabinet Ministers, No10 staff, officials who were involved in the Brexit negotiations and supporters of the battle to leave the EU.

They were served English sparkling wine and canapes including fillet of lamb on toast, Shropshire blue cheese, beef and Yorkshire pudding with horseradish sauce, mushrooms tarts and roast chicken skewers.

An illuminated clock counting down to 11pm was projected onto Downing Street.

Other buildings in Whitehall were lit up in red, white and blue, including the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Justice, HM Revenue and Customs, the Scotland Office, the Wales Office and the Cabinet Office.

But while there were pleas for unity, EU supporters staged protests in Liverpool, Doncaster and Harrogate while Brexiteers in Westminster chanted anti-EU slogans.

As Union flags flew in Parliament Square and The Mall, the UK flag was lowered from its pole at the European Council building – formally bringing an end to the UK’s membership.

European Council President Charles Michel, the former PM of Belgium, admitted: “Today is an exceptional day for the European Union and today probably we have mixed feelings.

“It’s never a happy moment when someone leaves but we are opening a new chapter, and we will devote all our energy to building a stronger and more ambitious European Union.”

EU leaders issued a stark warning that shifting away from the bloc’s rules will leave the UK with weakened access to the single market.

Mr Michel said: “The more the UK will diverge from the EU standards, the less the access to the single market they will have.”

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen added: “Britain will become a third country, and for all third countries, the following applies – only those who acknowledge the rules of the common market can benefit fully from the common market.”

She warned: “We want to have the best possible relationship with the United Kingdom but it will never be as good as membership.”

Senior Cabinet Minister Michael Gove admitted trade with the EU would not be “frictionless” after the transition deal ends on December 31.

He said: “We want trade to be as frictionless as possible but the EU is clear, you can only have fully frictionless trade if you accept all of their rules, if you accept all their laws, you are subordinate to their judges, you are subordinate to their political structures.”

The Government wants to strike a trade deal with the EU before the transition period finishes.

But ministers also plan to target a pact with the US.

American Ambassador to Britain Woody Johnson hailed a “historic day in British history”.

“On behalf of the United States Government, I would like to wish the United Kingdom every success as you chart a new path outside of the European Union,” he said.

“America shares your optimism and excitement about the many opportunities the future will bring.”

One of the key drivers of the Leave vote was record migration from Europe through EU freedom of movement.

Labour leadership hopeful Keir Starmer signalled he will bring back freedom of movement if he becomes PM.

Vowing to “make the case” for migration’s benefits and free movement, he said in a speech at Westminster Cathedral Hall: ”I want families to be able to live together, whether that’s in Europe or here, and I want people in this country, in the United Kingdom, to be able to go and study in Europe just as they can now and people in Europe to be able to come and study here.”

Asked directly if he would “bring back” free movement for EU citizens, he told the Mirror: “Yes, of course – bring back, argue for, challenge.”

Mr Starmer, who led the Shadow Cabinet battle to push Mr Corbyn towards backing a second referendum, said: “We’ve had the Brexit divide – it’s gone deep.

“We’ve now got to win the peace, we’ve got to win what comes next.”

Mr Johnson now faces huge pressure to deliver on his 2016 referendum and 2019 election promises.

He pledged £350million a week extra for the NHS during the Brexit battle and a boost to Britain’s economy from leaving the bloc.

During the run-up to December’s general election, he also made a string of promises to the North and Midlands, where voters handed him a thumping Commons majority.

But his commitments to the North  and Midlands will be questioned if he scraps the planned HS2 railway, which will slash journey times and boost capacity between London and Birmingham, and Leeds and Manchester.

He is also under pressure to cut net migration, with many Leave supporters opting to quit the bloc so the numbers heading to the UK can be reduced.

Latest figures show annual net migration – the difference between the numbers coming to the UK and those leaving each year – running at 212,000.

The PM also faces renewed calls to tackle climate change, having vowed to “lead the global fight against climate change by delivering on our world-leading target of Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050”.

Daily Mirror online

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