Boris Johnson tonight vowed Brexit will ‘unleash’ Britain but warned there will be more ‘bumps in the road’ – as the historic moment arrived.
In an address to the nation, the PM shunned triumphalism despite the UK finally leaving the EU when the clock struck 11pm after four years of turmoil.
Instead he appealed for unity – and insisted he recognised that not everyone was delighted with the path the country is taking. Mr Johnson said the EU had ‘admirable’ qualities but was going in a direction that ‘no longer suits’ the UK.
Speaking from Downing Street in the pre-recorded message – but notably without any patriotic backdrop – the premier said it was crucial to take advantage of reclaiming sovereignty to ‘level up’ the country, and improve life in left-behind areas.
‘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.
‘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.’
Mr Johnson voiced pride that he was able to ‘obey’ the verdict of the British people, but stressed the legal exit from the EU was ‘not an end but a beginning’.
‘This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act in our great national drama,’ he said.
No10 and other government buildings in Whitehall were lit up for the crucial occasion, and Nigel Farage is headlining the party in Parliament Square.
However, the official celebrations are deliberately low-key. Mr Johnson himself hosted a reception in Downing Street, drinking English sparkling wine with guests believed to include girlfriend Carrie and aides.
Meanwhile, Remainers have been showing their dismay across the UK, with angry demonstrations in Scotland.
While Britain is now legally out of the bloc, Brussels rules will still apply for another 11 months under ‘transition’ arrangements. The EU is gearing up for another major battle over future trade terms.
In an address to the nation, Boris Johnson shunned triumphalism despite the UK finally being on the verge of leaving the EU at 11pm after four years of turmoil
The final moments of Britain’s membership of the EU were counted down in lights projected on to the famous No10 frontage
The massive change was recorded in lights on the white cliffs of Dover as the UK came to terms with the new reality
Brexit supporters celebrated the cutting of ties with the EU after 47 years of members in Parliament Square tonight
The mood was jubilant in Parliament Square tonight – although the famous Big Ben bongs will not ring out at 11pm
Union flags were prominently on show as Brexit supporters showed their delight about the departure from the EU
Thousands of people gathered in Parliament Square to hear speeches from some of the main Brexit campaign players
Boris Johnson’s address to the country in full
Tonight we are leaving the European Union.
For many people this is an astonishing moment of hope, a moment they thought would never come.
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.
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 in our great national drama.
And yes it is partly about using these new powers – this recaptured sovereignty – to deliver the changes people voted for.
Whether that is by controlling immigration or creating freeports or liberating our fishing industry or doing free trade deals. Or simply making our laws and rules for the benefit of the people of this country.
And of course I think that is the right and healthy and democratic thing to do.
Because 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.
And that is a judgment that you, the people, have now confirmed at the polls. Not once but twice.
And yet this moment is far bigger than that. It is not just about some legal extrication.
It is potentially 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.
This is the moment when we really begin to unite and level up. Defeating crime, transforming our NHS, and with better education, with superb technology.
And with the biggest revival of our infrastructure since the Victorians.
We will spread hope and opportunity to every part of the UK. And if we can get this right I believe that with every month that goes by we will grow in confidence not just at home but abroad
And in our diplomacy, in our fight against climate change, In our campaigns for human rights or female education or free trade we will rediscover muscles that we have not used for decades.
The power of independent thought and action. Not because we want to detract from anything done by our EU friends – of course not.
We want this to be the beginning of a new era of friendly cooperation. Between the EU and an energetic Britain.
A Britain that is simultaneously a great European power. And truly global in our range and ambitions.
And when I look at this country’s incredible assets – our scientists, our engineers, our world-leading universities, our armed forces.
When I look at the potential of this country waiting to be unleashed, I know that we can turn this opportunity into a stunning success.
And whatever the bumps in the road ahead, I know that we will succeed.
We have obeyed the people. We have taken back the tools of self-government.
Now is the time to use those tools to unleash the full potential of this brilliant country and to make better the lives of everyone in every corner of our United Kingdom.
In a series of highly symbolic events earlier, the UK’s flag was removed at the headquarters of the European Council in Brussels.
And the EU flag was taken down at the British government’s building in the Belgian capital.
This morning Mr Johnson took his Cabinet to Sunderland, the first city to declare a majority for Leave in the 2016 referendum, in a symbol of his desire to reconnect with the north.
He told ministers the UK is starting a ‘new chapter’ and he would be ‘going full steam ahead to bring the nation together’, according to Downing Street.
He said the government would ‘begin immediately – providing better healthcare and education, tackling violent crime and homelessness and delivering great new infrastructure’.
He also laid down the gauntlet to the EU over trade negotiations, saying the UK will seek a loose ‘Canada-style’ deal.
He also made clear the government will look to strike deals with other countries outside the bloc at the same time.
A No10 spokesman said he told the Cabinet that ‘from tomorrow, the UK will also be free to begin trade negotiations with countries around the world – with the aim to have 80 per cent of our trade covered by FTAs within three years’.
In his address tonight, the PM stressed his belief that the referendum was a vote not just to leave the EU, but also for lasting change in neglected areas of the country.
He said: ‘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.’
He made clear the government would focus on bringing about change for ordinary people, highlighting that ministers could now control immigration, do free trade deals, and ‘liberate our fishing industry’.
‘Now is the time to use those tools to unleash the full potential of this brilliant country and to make better the lives of everyone in every corner of our United Kingdom,’ he said.
The EU and UK will use the standstill period over the next 11 months to try to hammer out the terms of their future relationship.
The UK is adamant a comprehensive deal can be struck by the end of the year but the EU is deeply sceptical and has called for an extension – something Mr Johnson has categorically ruled out.
On Monday Mr Johnson will deliver a major speech setting out his approach to the Brexit talks as well as detailing his plans for a period of national renewal.
Sources said he would be ‘very frank’ about his aims for the negotiations with Brussels and his determination to allow Britain to ‘diverge’ from EU rules, even if that means the introduction of some trade barriers.
Mr Johnson will also warn that failure to strike a trade deal by the end of the year would lead to the introduction of tariffs on goods entering from the EU, such as German cars, French cheese and Italian wines.
One government source said: ‘Theresa May made two crucial mistakes – she wasn’t clear about what she wanted, and she wasn’t clear that she was prepared to leave with or without a deal.
‘We are not going to make those mistakes. We want a good free trade deal, without alignment, but we are prepared to leave without one if we have to.’
Mr Johnson will also reject calls for the EU to be given automatic rights to UK fishing grounds – and for the European Court of Justice to be the arbiter of disputes arising from a new trade deal.
Mr Johnson has ordered only low key events to mark Britain’s departure tonight.
Union flags were put up in The Mall and around Parliament Square and there was a countdown clock and light show in Downing Street.
Brexit parties were being held across the country, including in Morley – where they watched Mr Johnson’s address
There was cheering and waving of union flags in Parliament Square as the UK formally left the EU at 11pm tonight
Nigel Farage was headlining the good-natured and colourful Brexit celebrations in Parliament Square tonight
There were scenes of jubilation as the minutes ran down towards the UK’s exit from the EU after 47 years of membership
Happy Brexiteers were out in force in Parliament Square tonight as the clocked ticked down on the UK’s time in the EU
The Foreign Office was dramatically lit up for the occasion tonight as the country marked Brexit finally happening
The Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall was also illuminated as part of the official celebrations of the moment
The Union flag was taken down at the European Council HQ in Brussels tonight as the new reality came into force
Leading Eurosceptic Steve Baker called for Brexiteers to avoid triumphalism, saying: ‘I will celebrate in a way which is respectful of the genuine sorrow that others are feeling at the same time.’
Boris Johnson marks moment of Brexit with party in Number 10
Boris Johnson has been marking the historic Brexit moment with a reception in Downing Street.
Guests included cabinet ministers, No 10 advisers, civil servant and officials who were involved in the Brexit negotiations, as well as supporters of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.
Mr Johnson’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds is also thought to have been there.
They were served English sparkling wine and a selection of patriotic canapes including fillet of lamb on toast, Shropshire blue cheese, beef and Yorkshire pudding with horseradish sauce, mushrooms tarts and roast chicken skewers.
No 10 has been illuminated with a clock counting down to Brexit at 11pm, and other buildings around Whitehall were lit up including the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Justice, HM Revenue and Customs, the Scotland Office, the Wales Office and the Cabinet Office.
However, fellow Brexiteer Peter Bone called for the introduction of a bank holiday named United Kingdom Day.
And Tory MP Mark Francois said he would be staying up all night to watch the ‘sun rise on an independent country’.
Meanwhile, the EU has been mulling over the departure of one of its largest members.
French president Emmanuel Macron warned the UK’s move was an ‘historic alarm signal’ that the bloc must reform – although he added that the Brexit campaign was based on ‘lies’.
The three most senior figures in the EU institutions delivered a parting shot as they said ‘size matters’.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Council Charles Michel and president of the European Parliament David Sassoli penned a joint article to mark Brexit.
They spoke of their ‘fondness for the United Kingdom’ and praised Britons for their ‘creativity, ingenuity, culture, and traditions’.
But they could not resist putting the boot in as they suggested that on its own Britain will not be able to influence global affairs in the way that it has been able to as a member of the bloc.
Many of the pro-Brexit revellers had decided to dress up for the party in Parliament Square this evening
Some Brexiteers in Parliament Square appeared not to have heeded advice from senior figures against being triumphalist
Emmanuel Macron has warned Britain’s imminent divorce from the EU should send alarm bells ringing in Brussels fearing other countries could peel away (pictured speaking at the Elysée Palace tonight). Ursula von der Leyen said at an event in Brussels this morning that ‘strength does not lie in splendid isolation’
Mr Johnson appeared in good spirits today as he travelled to the north of England for a meeting of his Cabinet. Before the meeting he visited The Industry Centre at University of Sunderland
Ann Widdecombe led the march for the Brexit Party after Nigel Farage left Brussels for the final time as an MEP on Wednesday after the European Parliament voted for the Brexit deal
Britain’s MEPs left the European Parliament for the final time today. Brexit Party MEPs took part in a march out of the building this morning carrying a banner reading ‘Brexodus Express’
They then used a press conference in Brussels to double down on the jibe as Ms von der Leyen said ‘strength does not lie in splendid isolation’.
Former president of the European Council Donald Tusk tweeted his sadness at the UK’s departure from the EU as he tweeted: ‘My dear British friends. We were, we are, and we will always be a Community. And no Brexit will ever change that.’
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the moment of Brexit would mark a ‘sea change’ for the EU.
‘We regret [Brexit], and we think the majority of the German population feel the same, but we respect the decision,’ Steffen Seibert said at a government press conference.
Berlin hopes Britain will continue to be a ‘close partner and friend’, Mr Seibert added.
Meanwhile, Britain’s MEPs waved goodbye to the European Parliament this morning as they headed back to the UK.
The Brexit Party’s contingent marked the occasion with a show of strength as they marched out of the building carrying a ‘Brexodus Express’ banner as Ann Widdecombe said: ‘The MEPs leaving here today, our duty is done, our harvest is home and now we’re off.’
Mr Johnson chaired Cabinet at the National Glass Centre at the University of Sunderland this afternoon – as the country braced for Brexit to happen at 11pm
Mr Johnson seemed to be enjoying himself as he tried his hand at glassblowing during the Cabinet away-day
Britain has left the EU, but what happens next? The UK and Brussels are braced for 11 months of crunch trade talks before a ‘cliff-edge’ in December (and Boris Johnson wants deals with Japan AND the US in 2020 as well)
Britain has finally left the European Union but its dealings with the bloc are far from over.
The last three years have almost entirely been about hammering out the terms of the UK’s divorce from Brussels.
Now the two sides must try to agree all of the details of their future relationship before a standstill transition period ends in December.
Here is a breakdown of all the key dates in the next chapter of the Brexit saga.
Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, pictured in Downing Street on January 8, will spend 2020 trying to hammer out a post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and Brussels
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator pictured in Strasbourg on January 14, will lead talks for the EU
January 31, 2020: The UK formally left the European Union at 11pm after more than three years of tortuous wrangling. The two sides enter into a standstill transition period during which they will try to agree the terms of their post-Brexit relationship. EU rules will continue to apply to the UK for the duration of the transition. The Department for Exiting the European Union ceases to exist.
February 2020: The UK will be free to pursue trade deals with whoever it wants. Japan and the US are expected to be Britain’s top targets with initial talks likely to start immediately after Brexit. The UK will also want to kickstart talks with the EU – but the bloc will make Britain wait.
End of February/early March 2020: Before trade talks can start between the UK and the EU, the bloc must agree a negotiating mandate. This mandate will set out the broad terms of what the EU will be striving for during negotiations and will also spell out Brussels’ red lines. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has suggested the mandate may not be finalised until the end of February or early March.
March 2020: Formal trade talks between the UK and the EU are expected to begin. A group of 40 officials called ‘Taskforce Europe’ and based out of the Cabinet Office will lead negotiations for the UK. The taskforce will be headed up by David Frost, a diplomat and one-time business lobbyist who was appointed Mr Johnson’s Europe adviser last year. Mr Frost is expected to negotiate directly with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
Brexit plagued Theresa May’s time as prime minister as she failed to persuade MPs to support her EU divorce deal. She is pictured at a summit in Brussels in March last year
April/May 2020: Trade talks between the UK and EU – as well as talks with other nations – will intensify. If major progress has not been made with Brussels then there is likely to be increasing pressure on Mr Johnson to agree to extend the transition period. The terms of Britain’s divorce from the bloc state that the standstill will finish on December 31 and the PM has been adamant he will not agree to an extension. But the Withdrawal Agreement does include a pressure valve mechanism which states that the transition can be prolonged by one or two years if both sides agree. The EU has already said it does not believe the transition period is long enough to finalise a comprehensive agreement so if talks stall in the first half of the year then Brussels could step up demands for a delay.
June/July 2020: The Withdrawal Agreement states that a decision to extend the transition period must be agreed by both sides before July 1, 2020 if it is to go ahead. The PM is expected to stick to his guns and refuse to agree to a delay, setting the stage for transition to end in December, with or without a full deal in place.
July to November 2020: Assuming no transition extension has been agreed, the second half of the year will be fraught with activity as the UK and EU rush to get everything decided. The UK will also be hoping that by this time agreements with Japan and the US will be taking shape, putting pressure on Brussels to work quickly.
September/October 2020: Downing Street is thought to want to have a trade deal with Japan in the books by the autumn to show the EU and the rest of the world it means business. It would be the UK’s first post-Brexit trade deal.
November 3, 2020: The date of the US presidential election. The White House has said it wants a trade agreement with the UK in place before the end of the year and will not want talks to clash with Donald Trump’s bid for re-election. That means a US-UK trade deal could be done and dusted before November.
December 2020: The UK and EU will either be on course to end the transition period with a full agreement in place or just a partial agreement. EU bosses have suggested that a lack of time will mean having to prioritise certain issues during talks, potentially leaving others to be resolved at a later date. The UK believes it is possible to get everything done. If no extension has been agreed then the two sides will be going their separate ways regardless.
December 31, 2020: The point at which the Brexit transition period will come to an end and when EU rules and regulations will cease to apply to the UK.
January 1, 2021: EU freedom of movement will be brought to an end and the UK’s new post-Brexit immigration system will be rolled out. The Australian-style points-based system is expected to treat migrants from across the world the same, ending preferential treatment for those from Europe.
How the drama unfolded as politicians went to war over Britain’s ties to the EU
Britain enters a new era tonight after nearly four years of intense civil war over whether Brexit should happen.
Since the beginning of 2016, politicians have been engaged in a bitter struggle for the soul of the country.
The period has been among the most dramatic in the UK’s history – with three Prime Ministers, a referendum and two elections.
The deadlock was finally broken on December 12, when Boris Johnson won a stunning Tory majority with his simple message of: ‘Get Brexit done.’
Here are some of the key dates as the chaos unfolded.
David Cameron took to the steps of Downing Street in February 2016 to announce the date for the referendum on whether to leave the EU
February 20, 2016: David Cameron announces the date for the referendum on whether to leave the EU.
June 23, 2016: The UK votes to leave the EU.
July 13, 2016: Theresa May becomes PM after seeing off challenges from Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
March 29, 2017: Mrs May formally notifies the EU that the UK is triggering the Article 50 process for leaving the bloc.
June 8, 2017: The Tories lose their majority in the snap election called by Mrs May in a bid to strengthen her hand on Brexit. Mrs May manages to stay in power propped up by the DUP.
The Tories lost their majority in the snap election on June 9, 2017, which was called by Theresa May in a bid to strengthen her hand on Brexit. She is pictured at her count in Maidenhead
July 12, 2018: Mrs May forces her blueprint for the future relationship with the EU through Cabinet during lengthy talks at Chequers. But both David Davis and Boris Johnson resign afterwards.
November 2018: Mrs May finally strikes a Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, and it is approved by Cabinet – although Esther McVey and Dominic Raab resign.
December 2018: Mrs May sees off a vote of no confidence in her leadership triggered by Tory MP furious about her Brexit deal.
January 15-16, 2019: Mrs May loses first Commons vote on her Brexit deal by a massive 230 votes. But she sees off a Labour vote of no confidence in the government.
March 12, 2019: Despite tweaks following talks with the EU, Mrs May’s deal is defeated for a second time by 149 votes.
March 29, 2019: Mrs May’s deal is defeated for a third time by a margin of 58 votes.
May 24, 2019: Mrs May announces she will resign on June 7, triggering a Tory leadership contest.
July 23-24, 2019: Mr Johnson wins the Tory leadership battle after solemnly vowing that Brexit will not be extended beyond October 31, and becomes PM the following day.
Mr Johnson won the Tory leadership and became PM in July last year, after solemnly vowing that Brexit will not be extended beyond October 31
August 28, 2019: Mr Johnson announces he wants to prorogue Parliament from September 10.
September 3-4, 2019: MPs seize control of Commons business and pass a law requiring a Brexit extension to avoid No Deal. Mr Johnson tries to call a snap general election but does not secure the two-thirds majority of MPs needed.
September 24, 2019: The Supreme Court declares the prorogation of Parliament illegal.
October 21, 2019: Mr Johnson strikes a new Brexit deal with the EU, incorporating many elements of Mrs May’s but deleting the Northern irish backstop and proposing a much looser alignment.
October 22, 2019: MPs approve Mr Johnson’s deal at second reading stage in a major breakthrough – but they vote down his proposed timetable and vow to try to amend the Bill later. The PM responds by pausing the legislation and again demanding an election.
October 29, 2019: MPs finally vote for an election, after the SNP and Lib Dems broke ranks to vote in favour, forcing the Labour leadership to agree.
In the election on December 12, 2019, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour recorded its worst performance since 1935 after he sits on the fence over Brexit. He is pictured at the Islington North count
December 12, 2019: The Tories win a stunning 80 majority after vowing to ‘get Brexit done’ during the campaign. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour records its worst performance since 1935 after he sits on the fence over Brexit, saying there should be a second referendum and he wants to remain neutral.
December 20, 2019: The new-look Commons passes Mr Johnson’s Withdrawal Bill by a majority of 124.
January 9: EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill cleared its Commons stages, and was sent to the House of Lords.
January 22: The EU Withdrawal Bill completed its progress through Parliament after the Commons overturned amendments tabled by peers, and the Lords conceded defeat.
Mr Johnson signed the ratified Withdrawal Agreement last week in another highly symbolic step towards Brexit
January 24: Mr Johnson signs the ratified Withdrawal Agreement in another highly symbolic step.
January 29: MEPs approve the Withdrawal Agreement by 621 to 49. Amid emotional scenes in Brussels, some link hands to sing a final chorus of Auld Lang Syne.
11pm, January 31: The UK formally leaves the EU – although it will stay bound to the bloc’s rules for at least another 11 months during the transition period.