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London, February 1, 2020
The United Kingdom has officially left the European Union (EU) after 47 years of membership and more than three years after it voted to do so in a referendum, finally putting an end to one of the most divisive political issues in the country's history, media reports said on Saturday.
When the clock struck 11 p.m. on Friday, thousands taking part in a Brexit celebration event in Parliament Square erupted into cheers, said a Metro newspaper report.
An illuminated clock counting down to the deadline was projected onto Downing Street and jubilant Brexiteers began singing "God Save the Queen".
The historic moment also saw anti-Brexit protests, including candlelit vigils in Scotland. Pro-EU demonstrators also staged a march in Whitehall to bid a "fond farewell" to the union
Brexit was hailed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as "not an end but the beginning".
"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," the BBC quoted Johnson as saying in a message released on social media an hour before the UK's departure.
"I understand all those feelings and our job as the government - my job - is to bring this country together now and take us forward.
"For all its strengths and for all its admirable qualities, the EU has evolved over 50 years in a direction that no longer suits this country.
"The most important thing to say tonight is that this is not an end but a beginning... A moment of real national renewal and change," the Prime Minister added.
While Britain's exit is a historic moment, it only marks the end of the first stage of the Brexit saga, said the Metro daily report.
The UK and the EU have given themselves an 11-month 'transition period' in which the former will continue to follow the bloc's rules to strike new agreements on trade, security and a host of other areas Johnson is expected to clash with EU members as he pursues a hard Brexit.
But despite the problems, several politicians wished Britain on its historic exit.
President of the EU Comission, Ursula Von Der Leyen, tweeted: "The challenges that Europe faces, and the opportunities that it can grasp, have not changed because of #rexit. As part of this, we want to have the best possible relationship with the UK. But it will never be as good as membership."
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: "I am pleased the UK and EU have agreed on a Brexit deal that honours the will of the British people."
However, there were some who did not welcome the move.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted a picture of the EU flag, saying: "Scotland will return to the heart of Europe as an independent country."
French President Emmanuel Macron called Brexit a "historic alarm signal" that should force the EU to improve itself.
The UK had joined what was then European Economic Community on January 1, 1973, at the third attempt. Two years later the country voted by an overwhelming majority to remain in the bloc in the first nationwide referendum, said the BBC.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron held another referendum in June 2016, amid growing pressure from his own MPs and Nigel Farage's UK Independence Party.
Cameron led the campaign to stay in the EU but lost by the narrow margin of 52 per cent to 48 per cent to the Leave campaign, fronted by fellow Conservative Johnson.
Cameron's successor Theresa May repeatedly failed to get her version of an EU withdrawal agreement passed by Parliament and was replaced by Johnson, who also failed to get his plans through.
Johnson managed to secure an early general election in December 2019, which he won with an 80-seat majority on a promise to "get Brexit done".
The Prime Minister's EU withdrawal deal was approved by MPs just before Christmas, and the bill became law earlier this year.