The mixed emotions of Brexit day show the UK is not yet at ease with itself

As some take to the streets to celebrate leaving the EU, others mourn the loss of an old friend
Brexit: Britain wakes up to uncertain future after UK leaves EU – live news

Jonathan Freedland
Sat 1 Feb 2020


Staff remove the union flag from the European council building in Brussels on Brexit day. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/AFP via Getty Images

How does a nation say goodbye to its neighbours? With a lump in its throat and a poignant song of farewell – or with cheers and a raised middle finger of defiant good riddance? The answer that Britain gave at 11pm on Friday 31 January 2020 was: both. The UK broke from the European Union on a late winter’s night with both jubilation and regret, as divided on the day of leaving as it had been in deciding to leave. For some Britons, this was Independence Day. For others, it was a national bereavement.

In Westminster, Nigel Farage exulted with his fellow Brexiters in Parliament Square, delighted that a prize they had sought for a quarter century, and that once seemed laughably improbable, was in their hands at last. “We did it,” he told the ecstatic crowd. “We transformed the landscape of our country.” At the stroke of 11pm, he led a chorus of the national anthem.

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