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Sadness and celebration as Britain leaves the European Union

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Nigel Farage enjoyed his moment at a rally in London to mark Britain leaving the EU
Nigel Farage enjoyed his moment at a rally in London to mark Britain leaving the EU   -  
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Britain is no longer a member of the European Union.

The United Kingdom left at midnight — 47 years after it joined in 1973 and more than three years after it voted to walk away in the Brexit referendum.

British and EU flags were lowered in Brussels and London while crowds gathered in London, Edinburgh and elsewhere marking the country's final hours of membership.

It was more of a symbolic moment than a sign of real change, as Britain's 11-month transition period means all the benefits and mechanisms of EU membership still apply.

But many saw reasons to celebrate.

In London, Brexit supporters draped in British flags gathered outside the Houses of Parliament for an upbeat rally led by Nigel Farage.

"We did it," Farage told cheering supporters. "We've transformed the landscape of our country, and there are some that say we shouldn't celebrate tonight. Well, we are going to celebrate tonight ... this is the single most important moment in the modern history of our great nation."

PM Boris Johnson hailing the UK’s departure from the European Union as an “astonishing moment of hope” that is “not an end but a beginning.”

He described it as “potentially a moment of real national renewal and change.”

“This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act in our great national drama,” he said.

He said that “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,” adding: “That is a judgment that you, the people, have now confirmed at the polls. Not once, but twice.”

In Scotland, where the UK's departure from the European Union could boost demands for independence, thousands attended a 'Missing EU Already' rally.

French President Emmanuel Macron called Brexit Day "a historic alarm signal" for Europe to become simpler and more democratic.

He also sounded a note of reassurance, saying: "I want to say to all British people living in France, some of you for many years, that tomorrow morning things will not change for you. You are in France, at home. Today, and tomorrow."

Earlier in the day, European leaders called for the EU to close ranks and become even more united as the UK officially left the bloc, with Ursula von der Leyen stressing that "strength does not lie in splendid isolation".

At a news conference in Brussels, the heads of three EU institutions sought to dispel the idea that the UK's departure has weakened the European project.

Not a happy moment

David Sassoli, the President of the EU parliament, opened the presser saying that that EU "have done everything to make UK citizens understand the gravity of their decision".

He said that "this day will be marked in history", while Charles Michel, the head of the EU Council, called it an "exceptional day for the EU".

"It's never a happy moment when someone leaves," Michel continued, reaffirming the bloc's commitment to "have our relationship with the UK be as close as possible".

He then focused on the union's future saying: "we will devote all our energy in building a stronger and more ambitious union".

Von der Leyen, the head of the Commission, also stressed that the EU is firmly looking towards the future and committed to strengthening its influence.

"When the UK joined, I was still at school, we were still six member states, tomorrow we will be 27 member states," she said.

"Strength does not lie in splendid isolation but in our unique union.

"Let there be no doubt the challenges Europe faces or the opportunities that it can grasp, have not changed because of Brexit," she emphasised. The EU, she added, will seek to take a more leading role worldwide on issues ranging from digitalisation to climate change.

'We need to get down to business'

Earlier in the morning, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that Brexit was bittersweet but that it provided the EU with "an opportunity to remember what a united Europe stands for."

"Today we are grateful to the European member states for their solidarity and support during the recent Brexit negotiations. It is proof of why small countries benefit from membership of the EU," he went on.

He referenced 'Ode to Joy', the European anthem, and reflected upon the issue of transcending frailties in order to achieve greater things.

'We need to get down to business," Varadkar stated referring to a future trade deal with the UK, adding that "there will be checks as things cannot be as they were before."

"I am ambitious about the future EU/UK relationship but I also think we think to be realistic about the dangers. We need to start a new relationship between the EU and the UK on a firm and honest footing. And that means a level playing field," he added.

'Renewal and change'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson began the day with a cabinet meeting in Sunderland, the north-eastern English city which was the first to declare support for leaving the EU in the 2016 referendum.

In a pre-recorded address emailed to broadcasters, Johnson called Brexit "an astonishing moment of hope."

“This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act in our great national drama,” he said.

But his message may not resonate in Scotland. In a speech in Edinburgh, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the country had a "cast-iron democratic mandate for an independence referendum" because it overwhelmingly backed to remain in the EU in the 2016 vote.

'Brexit is a sore point'

Back on the Old Continent, other member states leaders to have marked Brexit day include Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

He wrote on Twitter that, with the UK's departure, the EU is losing in "size and punch", adding that it is important to "ensure cooperation" between the two sides.

In a statement to Euronews, the Hungarian government expressed its wish for the EU to maintain "the closest possible economic, trade and defence cooperation" with the UK.

"Brexit is a sore point in European politics, and an enormous failure of the previous Juncker Commission," the statement also said.

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