AFP – Britain calls time on almost half a century of European Union membership this week, striking out alone in an historic move that has bitterly divided the country.
At 11pm GMT on Jan 31, the UK will become the first country to leave the 28-nation EU, the world’s largest single market area that it joined in 1973.
Nothing will immediately change, owing to a transition period negotiated between London and Brussels to allow both sides to agree a new future partnership.
Britons will be able to work in and trade freely with EU nations until Dec 31, and vice versa, although they will no longer be represented in the bloc’s institutions.
But legally, Britain will be out.
The exit process has been tortuous, with the years since the 2016 EU referendum marked by bitter arguments that paralysed the government and forced two prime ministers to quit.
Four years ago, 52 percent of Britons backed Brexit but 48 percent wanted to stay, and the country is still split between “Leavers” and “Remainers”.
The political chaos came to an abrupt halt last month when Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a decisive victory in a general election with a promise to “Get Brexit Done”.
The British parliament this week finally ratified the exit terms agreed with Brussels and Johnson called on the country to move on. “Next Friday marks an important moment in the history of our United Kingdom,” he said.