Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed an “astonishing moment” as Britain formally left the European Union (EU) after 47 years on Friday, saying his government had “obeyed the people” who voted for Brexit in a 2016 referendum.
“For many people this is an astonishing moment of hope, a moment they thought would never come,” Johnson said in a recorded speech.
The speech was broadcast via his Facebook account one hour before Brexit became official at 11 pm (2300 GMT), or midnight in Brussels.
“And there are many of course who feel a sense of anxiety and loss,” Johnson added.
“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.
“We have obeyed the people [who voted for Brexit in a 2016 referendum,” he said, adding: “We have taken back the tools of self-government.”
Johnson and the European Union’s top officials earlier pointed to new opportunities ahead after Brexit.
Thousands of eurosceptics gathered to celebrate Brexit Day in London and other cities, rivalled by smaller groups of pro-EU activists in some areas, but most British people were not expected to mark the date.
A light show and other events organised by Johnson’s Conservative government at Downing Street was outshone by a nearby “Brexit Celebration: Countdown to freedom” event fronted by veteran eurosceptic and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage in London’s Parliament Square.