Britain leaves the European Union, leaps into the unknown

Britain leaves the European Union, leaps into the unknown

With little fanfare, Britain left the EuropeanUnion on Friday after 47 years of membership, taking a leap into theunknown in a historic blow to the bloc.

The U.K.'s departure became official at 11 p.m. (2300GMT),midnight in Brussels, where the EU is headquartered. Thousands of enthusiastic Brexitsupporters gathered outside Britain's Parliament to welcome the moment they'dlonged for since Britain's 52%-48% vote in June 2016 to walk away from the clubit had joined in 1973. The flag-waving crowd erupted in cheers as Big Benbonged 11 times — on a recording. Parliament's real bell has been silenced forrepairs.

In a message from nearby 10 Downing St., Prime MinisterBoris Johnson called Britain's departure "a moment of real national renewal andchange."

But many Britons mourned the loss of their EU identity, andsome marked the passing with tearful vigils. There was also sadness in Brusselsas British flags were quietly removed from the bloc's many buildings.

Whether Brexit makes Britain a proud nation that hasreclaimed its sovereignty, or a diminished presence in Europe and the world,will be debated for years to come.

While Britain's exit is a historic moment, it only marks theend of the first stage of the Brexit saga. When Britons wake up onSaturday, they will notice very little change. The U.K. and the EU have giventhemselves an 11-month "transition period" — in which the U.K. will continue tofollow the bloc's rules — to strike new agreements on trade, security and ahost of other areas.

The now 27-member EU will have to bounce back from one ofits biggest setbacks in its 62-year history to confront an ever morecomplicated world as its former member becomes a competitor, just across theEnglish Channel.

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