Brexit becomes reality at last | Daily News

Brexit becomes reality at last

Big Ben bonged to mark Brexit at Midnight on December 31, 2019.
Big Ben bonged to mark Brexit at Midnight on December 31, 2019.

UK: Britain on Thursday finally severed its turbulent half-century partnership with Europe, quitting the EU single market and customs union to go its own way four-and-a-half years after its shock vote to leave the bloc.

Brexit, which has dominated politics on both sides of the Channel since 2016, became a reality as Big Ben struck 11:00 pm (2300 GMT) in London, just as most of mainland Europe ushered in 2021.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson -- the figurehead of the “Leave” campaign -- described it as an “amazing moment” for the country and played up his upbeat narrative of a “Global Britain” unshackled from rules set in Brussels.

He vowed that post-Brexit Britain, despite being battered by a surge in coronavirus cases, would be an “open, generous, outward-looking, internationalist and free-trading” country.

“We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it.”

On the front page of its Friday edition, the stridently anti-EU Daily Express showed a picture of the White Cliffs of Dover and the headline “Our future. Our Britain. Our destiny”.

Legally, Britain left the European Union on January 31 but has been in a standstill transition period during fractious talks to secure a free-trade agreement with Brussels, which was finally clinched on Christmas Eve.

Now the transition is over, EU rules no longer apply. The immediate consequence is an end to the free movement of more than 500 million people between Britain and the 27 EU states.

Customs border checks return for the first time in decades, and despite the free-trade deal allowing Britain continued access to Europe’s nearly 450 million consumers, queues and disruption from additional paperwork are expected.

At the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais, French officials began implementing the new formalities at midnight on the dot, starting with a truck coming from Romania carrying post and parcels.

The 2016 referendum opened up abiding wounds between Leavers and Remainers, and ushered in years of political paralysis before Johnson took power last year, vowing to chart a future for Britain built on scientific innovation and new partnerships across the seas.A parliamentary debate on Wednesday to ratify the trade deal was marked by elegiac farewells from pro-EU lawmakers, and warnings of disruption as Britain dismantles the intricate network of ties built since it joined the EU’s forerunner in 1973.

While the EU tariff- and quota-free trade deal averted potential business chaos in the immediate future, the divorce will play out in many practical ways.

Changes apply to everything from pet passports, to how long Britons can visit their holiday homes on the continent and an end to British involvement in a student exchange programme.

But opinion polls indicate that most Britons, on both sides of the referendum divide, want to move on and are far more worried about the worsening coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed 73,500 lives.

Johnson, who himself is among nearly 2.5 million struck down by the virus, warned of tough times ahead because of a resurgence of COVID-19 infections but said a UK-developed vaccine offered grounds for hope. - AFP