LONDON – The UK has finally completed its economic separation from the European Union and ushered in a new era of greater freedom, but has increased isolation from its continental neighbors.
While Brexit officially closed in January 2020, Thursday marked the end of a transition period during which the UK followed all of the European Union’s rules and regulations.
When London’s Big Ben struck at 11 p.m. – Midnight, Brussels time – The final outcome of the Brexit process came about, to the delight of those who supported Brexit and the dismay of those who continue to fear the consequences.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU, described the new year as “an amazing moment for this country”.
“We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it,” he said in a New Years video message.
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The EU. is a political and economic association of 27 nations, which is linked by common free trade rules, laws and values. The bloc was created in part out of a desire never to repeat the violence of World War II.
On June 23, 2016, the British people voted to leave the bloc by 52 to 48 percent. Four years of national drama followed as the vote uncovered deep divisions across the country that shocked many and proved difficult to heal.
During the transition period last year, the UK kept the same rules as the other 27 countries while trying to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union. After months of seemingly deadlocked negotiations, both sides announced a breakthrough last week, just days before the Thursday deadline.
Now Britain has left the vast internal market and customs union of the European bloc, allowing people, goods and services to flow freely in more than two dozen countries.
The new trade agreement contains most of the common rules and regulations, but maintains free trade between the UK and the EU. It also has some collaboration in areas like security, aviation, and science.
However, businesses face new costs and paperwork, including customs declarations and border controls, and must deal with the new rules of the trade agreement.
As with this year’s New Years celebrations, celebrations or gatherings to mourn the moment have been subdued as most people stayed home due to the restrictions of the coronavirus.
For some, Thursday will be remembered as the day Britain finally cast off the shackles of the Brussels-based bloc. Others will mourn the day Britain drifts away, leaping into the unknown in a tumultuous era as the world battles to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
But last month’s post-Brexit deal and Thursday’s final deadline could mean some Britons are starting to move on. While some are are already campaigning to rejoin.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.