Brexit takes full effect as UK leaves EU single market

 BREXIT became a reality on Thursday as Britain left Europe’s customs union and single market, ending nearly half a century of turbulent ties with its closest neighbours.

The United Kingdom’s (UK) tortuous departure from the European Union (EU) took full effect at 2300 GMT in central London, just as most of the European mainland ushers in 2021 at midnight.

Brexit has dominated British politics since the country’s narrow vote to leave the bloc in June 2016, opening deep political and social wounds which remain raw.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a key Brexit architect, said yesterday that Britain’s destiny “now resides firmly in our hands”, shortly after MPs approved his trade deal with the EU.

Legally, Britain left 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.

Once the transition ends, EU rules will no longer apply, with the immediate consequence being an end to the free movement of more than 500 million people between Britain and the 27 EU states.

Customs border checks will be back for the first time in decades, and despite the free-trade deal, queues and disruption from additional paperwork are expected. Britain is the first member state to leave the EU, which was set up to forge unity after the horrors of World War II.

The EU has lost 66 million people and an economy worth USD2.85 trillion, but Brexit, with its appeal to nationalist populism, also triggered fears other disgruntled members could follow suit.

Leaders in both London and Brussels signalled their wish to draw a line. “It’s been a long road.

It’s time now to put Brexit behind us. Our future is made in Europe,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said as she signed the trade pact. Johnson said that yesterday heralded “a new beginning in our country’s history and a new relationship with the EU as their biggest ally”.

Unlike in January, when flag-waving Brexiteers cheered and pro-EU “remainers” mourned, no formal events are planned for the end of the transition.

But, Johnson’s father, Stanley, confirmed plans yesterday to seek French citizenship as the free movement of Britons in the EU comes to an end under the Brexit pact delivered by his son.

Speaking to France’s RTL radio in French, Stanley Johnson said: “It’s not a question of becoming French. If I understand correctly I am French! My mother was born in France; her mother was completely French as was her grandfather.

“For me it’s a question of obtaining what I already have and I am very happy about that,” the 80-year-old added.

The father of the politician who ended Britain’s 47-year-old membership of the EU was among the first civil servants appointed to Brussels after Britain joined the EU in 1973.

He worked for the European Commission and served as a member of the European Parliament.

He initially campaigned against leaving the EU before changing his mind a year after Britain voted to leave the union in 2016.

“I will always be European, that’s for sure,” he told RTL.

“You can’t tell the English: you’re not European. Europe is more than the single market; it’s more than the European Union.”

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