Some politicians in Britain and the EU have expressed triumph while others voiced bitter regret after the UK’s Brexit transition period ended on Thursday night.
Britain left the European bloc’s vast single market for goods, services and the movement of people at 11pm GMT on New Year’s Eve – midnight in Brussels – completing the biggest single economic change the country has experienced since the second world war.
For some, including the prime minister, it was moment of pride. Boris Johnson said the UK was now “free to do trade deals around the world, and free to turbocharge our ambition to be a science superpower”.
But in Scotland, which voted strongly in the 2016 Brexit referendum to remain, the pro-independence first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, tweeted: “Scotland will be back soon, Europe. Keep the light on.”
The former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who played a key role in the 2016 Brexit referendum, tweeted: “25 years ago they all laughed at me. Well, they’re not laughing now.”
He also wrote: “This is a big moment for our country, a giant leap forward. Time to raise a glass. BrexitAtLast.”
The UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, Lord Frost, said the UK had a “great future before us” with the chance to “build a better country for us all”.
The Conservative MP Bill Cash, who has campaigned for Brexit for decades, said it was a “victory for democracy and sovereignty.”
Across the Channel the view was different. In his new year’s address, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, expressed regret. “The United Kingdom remains our neighbour but also our friend and ally,” he said. “This choice of leaving Europe, this Brexit, was the child of European malaise and lots of lies and false promises.”
The divorce could also have major constitutional repercussions for the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland, which shares a border with EU member the Republic of Ireland, remains more closely tied to the bloc’s economy under the divorce terms, a status some fear could pull it away from the rest of the UK.
Many in Britain felt apprehension about Brexit taking place during a pandemic that has upended life around the world. “I feel very sad that we’re leaving,” said Jen Pearcy-Edwards, a film-maker in London.
“I think that Covid has overshadowed everything that is going on. But I think the other thing that has happened is that people feel a bigger sense of community, and I think that makes it even sadder that we’re breaking up our community a bit, by leaving our neighbours in Europe.
“I’m hopeful that we find other ways to rebuild ties.”