Britain has begun the day as a member of the European Union. Its status at the end of the day – as a proud nation that has reclaimed its sovereignty, or a diminished presence in Europe and the world – will still be up for debate.
Britain officially departs the EU at 11pm on Friday (10am AEDT Saturday).
The departure comes three years after the country voted by a margin of 52-48 per cent to walk away from the club it had joined in 1973.
It’s the first time a country has left the EU, and many in the bloc regard it as a sad day. In Brussels, the European Council will sketch out the EU’s first steps as a group of 27, rather than 28.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to meet in the morning with his Cabinet in the pro-Brexit town of Sunderland, in northeast England. He is scheduled to deliver a televised address to the country an hour before departure, calling Brexit “not an end but a beginning”.
According to his office, he will describe it as “a moment of real national renewal and change”.
The government hopes the moment will be marked in a dignified, non-triumphalist fashion, with red, white and blue lights illuminating government buildings and a countdown clock projected onto the prime minister’s 10 Downing St. residence.
Some Brexit supporters will be holding more raucous celebrations. Arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage and his band of devotees will gather for patriotic songs and speeches in London’s Parliament Square to mark a moment that even Farage sometimes doubted would ever come.
Britain’s departure is a historic moment, but it only marks the end of the first stage of the Brexit saga. When Britons wake up on Saturday, they will notice very little change.
The UK and the EU have given themselves an 11 month “transition period” – in which the UK will continue to follow the bloc’s rules – to strike new agreements on trade, security and a host of other areas.