The UK left the European Union’s orbit, turning its back on a tempestuous 48-year liaison with the European project for an uncertain post-Brexit future in its most significant geopolitical shift since the loss of empire.
Brexit, in essence, took place at the strike of midnight in Brussels, or 2300 London time (GMT), when the United Kingdom ended the de facto membership, known as the transition period, which lasted 11 months after it formally left on Jan. 31.
For five years, the frenzied gyrations of the Brexit crisis dominated European affairs, haunted the sterling markets and tarnished the United Kingdom’s reputation as a confident pillar of Western economic and political stability.
After years of Brexit vitriol, one of the most significant events in European history since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union passed with little fanfare: The United Kingdom slipped away, serenaded by the silence of the COVID-19 crisis.
Supporters cast Brexit as the dawn of a newly independent “global Britain”, but it has weakened the bonds that bind England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland into a $3 trillion economy.
“This is an amazing moment for this country,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 56, said in his New Year’s Eve message. “We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it.”
As EU leaders and citizens bade farewell, Johnson said there would be no bonfire of regulations to build a “bargain basement Dickensian Britain” and that the country would remain the “quintessential European civilization”.
But Johnson, the face of the Brexit campaign, has been short on detail about what he wants to build with Britain’s “independence” – or how to do it while borrowing record amounts to pay for the COVID-19 crisis.
His 80-year-old father, Stanley Johnson, who voted to remain in 2016, said he was in the process of applying for a French passport.