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“Dawn of new era” marked as Britain leaves EU

LONDON (Xinhua) -- Memories, celebrations and commiserations marked a historic day that will be narrated differently by the Brexiteers and Europhiles in the future.
Britain officially left the European Union (EU) at 11 p.m. (2300 GMT) Friday, putting an end to its 47-year-long membership of the world’s largest trading bloc.
The Brexit Day was marked with both celebrations and protests across Britain, leaving the EU in mixed feeling and the remaining EU members calling for stronger solidarity within the bloc.

Supporters of a pro-Brexit group celebrate at Parliament Square in London, Britain, on January 31, 2020.
--Photo  Stephen Chung/Xinhua

In a televised special address to the nation, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who took office amid the Brexit crisis, called the moment of departure “the dawn of a new era” when “the curtain goes up on a new act.”
“Our job as the government -- my job -- is to bring this country together and take us forward,” he said. “And the most important thing to say tonight is that this is not an end but a beginning.”
A joint statement of EU leaders said that the day is of “reflection and mixed emotions” for themselves and many others, and that Britain and EU will have to work hard to weave together a new way forward “as allies, partners and friends.”
The moment also marked the start of a transition period which will last till the end of this year as negotiators try to forge a trade arrangement between Britain and the remaining EU nations.
Big Ben, which has been mostly silent since restoration work began in 2017, did not chime at the historic moment for the nation that was hugely divided by the Brexit referendum in 2016.
10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s residence, counted down to the 11 p.m. deadline with a light display. Government buildings in central London were lit up to celebrate the special occasion.
The British government has hailed the Brexit Day as a significant moment in the country’s history and said it intends to use the event to bring communities back together and “heal divisions.”
On Friday, a British government cabinet meeting took place in Sunderland, the first city to declare support for leaving the EU three and a half years ago.
A commemorative Brexit coin which reads “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations” also went into circulation in Britain on the day.
At London’s Parliament Square, the Union flags were flown from flag poles outside the Houses of Parliament as Brexiteers chanted slogans to celebrate the moment.
For the Brexiteers, the day signifies that Britain has once again become a truly independent, sovereign state and a normal self-governing, parliamentary democracy.
“We will now be fully in control of our own, laws, finance, borders and trade,” Alan Sked, founder of leading Brexit political party UK Independence Party, told Xinhua.
On the other side of the English Channel, the Union Jack was lowered for the last time outside the building of the European Parliament in Brussels.
Despite challenges, leaders of the EU and remaining member states have pledged to turn Brexit into an opportunity of forging a more competitive, integrated and influential bloc.
“It’s never a happy moment when someone leaves, but we are opening a new chapter,” European Council President Charles Michel said, vowing that “we will devote all our energy to building a stronger, more ambitious EU.”
To some, Brexit also means an uncertain future for the United Kingdom.
Brian Renaghan, whose farmland straddles the border between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland, fears that he may lose the annual EU subsidies to keep his business afloat.
“I will have to come up with another way to make money, perhaps turning it into a recreational farm or something,” he told Xinhua.
He said he believed Brexit was the beginning of the end of the United kingdom, adding that he could see a United Ireland coming within 10 years.
In Dundee, a high-profile “Yes City” in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, city council leader John Alexander said he was eager to get a good sleep before starting the next day campaigning even harder for Scottish independence.
“Brexit has not only resulted in huge political upheaval and public anger, but is already having a negative impact upon the UK’s, and therefore Scotland’s, economic outlook,” he told Xinhua, adding the British government’s position “does not in any way reflect the views of the Scottish population.”
In the 2016 Brexit referendum, every single voting district in Scotland voted to remain in the EU, the largest and most strategically important economic partner for Scotland.
“Independence offers Scotland an opportunity to right that wrong,” Alexander said. “It is not a question of whether it will happen but when.”
Withdrawing from the EU is merely the first hurdle that will be followed by negotiations on a permanent trade and working arrangement between Britain and Brussels. The tough talks are expected to be wrapped up within this year as the Brexit transition period ends.
Britain’s departure from the EU will be just the starting point in a rocky and uncertain journey that may continue for years, and almost certainly into the second half of the 2020s, said Ivan Rogers, Britain’s former permanent representative to the EU.
The veteran ex-diplomat warned that Jan. 31 is just the beginning of Brexit rather than the end of it.
In Dover, one of Europe’s busiest ferry ports and Britain’s closest physical point to mainland Europe, residents voiced their optimism despite the warning.
“I know it will be a tough road ahead, but I am confident that we will find a way out,” said Stuart Ord-Hume, who has been a stock broker for 23 years. “I believe the government has the ability to deal with all the challenges, and they don’t want the country to collapse.”
Brexit has also cast doubt on the future of the EU, which expanded a number of times throughout its history, and the trend of globalisation as a whole.
Martin Albrow, a renowned British sociologist and a pioneer of the theory of globalisation, told Xinhua that he thinks Brexit will make no difference to globalisation which is driven by technology, culture and ideas.
“Brexit itself contains contradictions between desire to access global markets and aim to restrict immigration,” said the academic. “The more there is a drive to integrate further, the greater the internal resistance will be.”
Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator at the business news daily Financial Times, said in a recent column piece that Britain after Brexit will not be alone, but it will be lonelier.
“The UK will frequently find itself a supplicant in relations with powers greater than itself.” Enditem

(Latest Update February 3, 2020

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