With little fanfare, the United Kingdom officially left the European Union on Friday, entering into a period of unknown after three years of opposing identity politics over Brexit and tense negotiations.
The departure became official at 11 p.m. in Brussels, where the EU is headquartered. Thousands of Brexit supporters waving Union Jack flags gathered outside Britain’s Parliament to celebrate the severing of the 47-year relationship.
A recording of Big Ben sounded out as Brexit became official, prompting crowds to sing the British national anthem, “God Save the Queen.”
Brexit supporters had been looking forward to the exit since 52 percent of Britain voted in June 2016 to walk away from the EU, which it joined in 1973. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the departure “a moment of real national renewal and change.”
Some mourned the loss of their EU identity, with several vigils being held across the UK.
There was also sadness in Brussels as British flags were quietly removed from the bloc’s many buildings, befpre being folded and taken away.
French President Emmanuel Macron called Brexit a “historic alarm signal” that should force the EU to improve itself.
“It’s a sad day, let’s not hide it,” he said in a televised address. “But it is a day that must also lead us to do things differently.”
Johnson, who won a December election victory with his promise to get Brexit done, insisted post-Brexit Britain would be “simultaneously a great European power and truly global in our range and ambitions.”
“We want this to be the beginning of a new era of friendly cooperation between the EU and an energetic Britain,” Johnson said in a pre-recorded address to the country broadcast an hour before Britain’s exit.
The departure marks the first stage of Brexit. An 11-month transition period now follows as Britain and the EU will negotiate new agreements on trade and a number of other issues. Britons, in the meantime, will see very little change.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.