The end of an era – Brexit Day dawns
After three and a half years of “will they, won’t they?” the United Kingdom will finally leave the European Union at midnight tonight.
Photo credit: Adobe Stock
The contrasting extremes of Brexit were on stark display in Brussels on Friday - the day the UK finally leaves the EU.
The first was a barely-disguised show of triumphalism by the Brexit party, whose MEPs, led by a Scottish piper, walked “in formation” from Parliament just before 9am to Place Luxembourg.
Amid a huge media scrum, the members, led by Anne Widdecombe, a former contestant on a dancing show in the UK, held court about their success in pulling the UK out of the EU.
The former Tory MP told reporters, “This is a day for rejoicing and we can now go forward. We have done our duty and now we are off.”
She and her colleagues passed a spot where on Thursday, Remainers planed an English oak tree to symbolise what they say are the UK’s “roots” in the EU.
In clear celebratory mood and waving Brexit party umbrellas, though, Widdecombe and a gaggle of colleagues then boarded the “Brexodus Express” bus which took them to the city’s Midi station and their Eurostar train journey “home.”
Party leader Nigel Farage is thought to be in London for similar “celebrations” later in the day.
“This is a day for rejoicing and we can now go forward. We have done our duty and now we are off” Ann Widdecombe, Brexit Party MEP
A few metres away, though, came another symbol - one representing the millions in the UK who voted to stay in the EU.
A small group of campaigners staged a “dignified and quiet vigil close to the parliamentarium, the parliament’s museum about its activities, where, on Friday morning the presidents of the three EU institutions - Parliament, Commission and Council – held a news conference on “future of Europe.”
New Europeans, a campaign group, has also organised a silent procession and candlelit vigil in Westminster on Friday “to remind those watching as Britain leaves the EU that many of the citizens' rights issues are still unresolved.”
Roger Casale, its CEO, told this site, “To be frank the EU has not covered itself in glory vis-à-vis the treatment of UK citizens in the EU.”
Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, will later speak on the draft negotiating directives for the future relationship negotiations with the UK.
Parliament President David Sassoli said, “It deeply saddens me to think that we have come to this point and that a long-time EU member, partner and friend has decided to leave our EU family.”
“Today is a day full of emotions: we are grateful for the valuable contribution provided by the UK, and in particular, by British members, but at the same time we feel a sense of sadness for the fact that we can no longer continue our European journey together.”
“To be frank, the EU has not covered itself in glory vis-à-vis the treatment of UK citizens in the EU” Roger Casale, New Europeans
He went on, “We obviously respect and fully accept the decision of the people of the UK and their wish to build a different future outside the EU. We will continue to be close friends and partners; the things we have in common from a shared history and geography to our values will lead us to continue to cooperate closely in almost every area.”
“However, our relationship will be different, this is inevitable, and in ways, that we still cannot fully foresee.”
A Labour MEP told this website, “The timing of the speeches by the presidents is impeccable. It is a chance for them to state clearly what people can now expect for the EU’s future. They have to be clear that the EU is ready to change and take heed of the UK’s exit.”
The UK flag will be taken down at midnight from outside the institutions.
Speaking nearby, Belgian Greens MEP Philippe Lamberts told reporters that it can “no longer be business as usual” for the EU now that it has lost one of its most important members.
He said, “No, it cannot be business as usual anymore. If the EU thinks business as usual is okay then we are going to see a rise in dissatisfaction with the EU.”
Further comment from former SNP MEP Alyn Smith, who, in a message to the EU, said, “Please keep a light on for Scotland.”
“It deeply saddens me to think that we have come to this point and that a long-time EU member, partner and friend has decided to leave our EU family” David Sassoli, Parliament President
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon outlined the party’s latest plans for Scottish independence on Friday.
With tough negotiations on the next phase of Brexit set to begin, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned that the UK was now at a “crossroads” adding that he thinks there is a risk of “it turning in on itself.”
BusinessEurope President Pierre Gattaz said, “We regret that the UK will no longer be a member of the EU but we respect the decision of the British people. Now we must focus on the future.”
“Business is far from having any certainty on the future EU-UK relationship and the spectre of a ‘cliff edge’ is not yet off the table. We need to move quickly to avoid this outcome and ensure a smooth transition to the future EU-UK relation with a clear and stable framework that gives confidence to citizens and businesses.”
His colleague, BusinessEurope Director General Markus Beyrer said: “The future EU-UK relation will have a strong impact on businesses and we expect to be closely engaged in the negotiation process. We want a comprehensive and ambitious EU-UK agreement but we are aware there is limited time to achieve it.”
He added, “Brexit will not diminish the importance of EU-UK relations and we call on negotiators to work towards a comprehensive deal that will enable the EU and the UK to tackle together the many common future challenges.”
On 1 February, the UK will enter the so-called transition period, during which little will change in its economic relations with the EU. As this period will expire on 31 December 2020, only 11 months remain for both sides to negotiate and implement a deal on the future relationship.
“It cannot be business as usual anymore. If the EU thinks business as usual is okay then we are going to see a rise in dissatisfaction with the EU” Philippe Lamberts, Greens co-leader
Belgium, home to the EU institutions, has marked the UK’s exit in its own ways.
The Stib transport service has bid farewell to the UK in the European Union, with a video showing some of them - including Churchill, Darwin and Montgomery.
Several stops also carry the name of British towns and cities - Dover, Liverpool and Lancaster.
The Grand Place was lit up in red, white and blue on Thursday for a special event, "Brussels Calling", to mark Britain's exit from the European Union, including live music and British icons, from a red telephone box to Sherlock Holmes.
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