After three and a half years of political turmoil, the historic moment, which happened on Friday evening, January 31, 2020, was marked by both celebrations and anti-Brexit protests.
In a message released on social media an hour before the UK’s departure, the prime minister Boris Johnson vowed to bring the country together and “take us forward”.
“For many people this is an astonishing moment of hope, a moment they thought would never come,” he said.
“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.
“I understand all those feelings and our job as the government – my job – is to bring this country together now and take us forward.”
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”.
He added: “The most important thing to say tonight is that this is not an end but a beginning,” he said, and “a moment of real national renewal and change”.
The departure on January 31 also marks the start of a “transition period” in which the U.K. remains a member of the single market and customs union and begins negotiations with the EU to strike a free-trade deal.
During the transition period, the U.K. will not have voting rights on EU matters but will still be bound by EU rules.
The U.K. government has set a deadline of the end of 2020 in which a deal must be reached, otherwise it will leave the single market with “no deal” and will have to revert to World Trade Organization rules.