Britain bows out of EU with optimism and regret

Boris Johnson will pronounce “the dawn of a new era” for Britain on Friday, as it ends almost half a century of European Union membership, and urge the country to come together after a period of bitter division.

Mr Johnson, who campaigned for Brexit, has ordered that there must be no triumphalism as the clock ticks towards 11pm London time; in Brussels the British flag will be lowered at EU institutions today for the last time.

Although Brexiters, led by Nigel Farage, are planning a party in central London, Britain’s departure from the EU will be a moment of profound sadness for half the country and takes place against an uncertain economic backdrop.

On Thursday the Bank of England further downgraded its view of the underlying prospects for the economy to the lowest level since the second world war, threatening Mr Johnson’s ability to pump more money into “left behind” regions of the UK.

The BoE’s monetary policy committee, which voted to hold rates at 0.75 per cent after noting a post-election improvement in business sentiment, estimated that Britain’s economy could grow at only an average rate of 1.1 per cent over the next three years without sparking damaging inflationary pressure.

Mr Johnson will set a sober tone for “Brexit day” by holding his weekly cabinet meeting in Sunderland, the first city to declare support for leaving the EU in the referendum in 2016.

The fate of Sunderland, home to a large Nissan car plant, is now inextricably bound with Mr Johnson’s ability to negotiate a good trade deal with the EU during a standstill transition period, which is scheduled to last until the end of 2020.

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Downing Street admitted that the prime minister’s plan for Britain to quit the customs union and end alignment with EU rules — albeit with a “zero tariffs, zero quotas” trade agreement — “would inevitably mean extra processes are required on UK-EU trade”.

The prime minister sees Brexit as a catalytic moment and intends to focus his government’s efforts on the regions of the UK that voted to leave the EU in 2016.

“Our job as the government – my job – is to bring this country together and take us forward,” he will say in a televised address to the nation. “And the most important thing to say tonight is that this is not an end but a beginning.

“This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act. It is a moment of real national renewal and change. This is the dawn of a new era in which we no longer accept that your life chances — your family’s life chances — should depend on which part of the country you grow up in.”

In a sign that the government recognises that not everybody regards Brexit as the ideal starting point for national renewal, Mr Johnson has ordered low-key events in London to commemorate the moment of departure. 

A light display in Downing Street will be live-streamed on No 10’s social media channels, including a clock counting down to 11pm projected on to the building’s black bricks. However, the area is not open to the public.

Meanwhile, buildings around Whitehall will be lit up and Union flags will be flown in Parliament Square. A commemorative 50p Brexit coin is being brought into circulation, but Big Ben will not chime for the occasion.

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Britain, which joined the European Economic Community in 1973, will no longer be represented in EU meetings, even though the bloc’s rules will continue to apply until the end of the transition period.

Brussels will mark Britain’s departure day tomorrow with speeches from European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and other EU chiefs.

Events across the city on Thursday night to mark Britain’s departure varied from a festival of Anglo-Belgian friendship in the city’s ornate main square to a “Brexit’s shit, but let’s party anyway” concert organised by UK Green MEP Magid Magid.


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