LONDON, February 1. /TASS/. After 47 years of European membership, the United Kingdom officially withdrew from the European Union at 23:00 GMT (2:00 Moscow time on Saturday).
The withdrawal, known as Brexit, was initiated after Britons voted to quit the European Union during the 2016 referendum. The margin was 1.3 million votes (52% versus 48%).
Thousands of Brexit supporters celebrated the withdrawal by gathering in downtown London. Brexiteers have gathered in Parliament Square to celebrate the historic moment, chanting and waving flags. Governmental buildings were illuminated with national flag colors - blue, red and white.
An hour before this turning point in the UK’s political history, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, an ardent Brexit supporter, delivered his address to the nation.
Earlier in the day, the flag of the United Kingdom has been removed from the building of the EU Council. The video of the flag being removed was released via the Council’s official Twitter shortly before midnight.
"The UK flag is removed from the EU Council building in Brussels as the country leaves the EU at midnight," the EU Council said in a Twitter post.
After quitting the European Union, the United Kingdom will finally "rediscover muscles that we have not used for decades," UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a televised address to the nation shortly before Brexit.
"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," Johnson said.
"I believe that with every month that goes by we will grow in confidence not just at home but abroad," he continued. "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."
According to the premier, in order to achieve those ambitious tasks, the country needs to overcome the differences, generated by the Brexit issue.
"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," he said.
The premier went on to say that finding a common ground for all political and social groups was his cabinet’s task.
"I understand all those feelings, and our job as the government - my job - is to bring this country together now and take us forward," he said. "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."
Johnson expressed hope that constructive dialogue with the European Union would continue.
"We want this to be the beginning of a new era of friendly cooperation between the EU and an energetic Britain," he said.
After January 31, the UK and the EU enter a transition period meant to maintain the existing state of affairs, particularly on trade and tariffs, while the two sides are negotiating a deal on future trading relations. The transition period is scheduled to end on December 31, 2020. London is also obliged to continue paying membership fees to the EU budget until the end of 2020.