Brexit has officially happened as Britain leaves the EU single market

The UK has officially cut ties with the European Union.

We have now left the customs union and the single market, and the transition period is over, with Big Ben ringing out across London to mark the moment.

It’s a moment for celebration or commiseration – but either way, many people will be drinking an hour before the clock strikes midnight.

The formal transition happened at 11pm on December 31 2020, an hour before midnight as Britain is one hour behind European time.

It was four years, six months, and eight days after people went to the polls in the EU referendum on June 23, 2016.

Since then, we have had three prime ministers, a failed campaign for a second referendum, worldwide protests and a global pandemic.

But none of it changed the course of Brexit, and it now remains to be seen whether Remainers’ concerns proved Project Fear or Project Reality.

New Year’s Eve this year signifies not only the end to 2020 (finally) but an end to 47 years of working together with our European neighbours as part of a common community.

Although we officially left the EU on January 31 this year, in practice little changed as we were still subject to the same laws and had not yet worked out what our future relationship would be.

Now, after fears we could crash out without a deal on January 1, a deal has been signed.

In a New Year message, Boris Johnson said the UK would be ‘free to do things differently, and if necessary better, than our friends in the EU’ in 2021.

He said the UK will ‘work with partners around the world, not just to tackle climate change but to create the millions of high-skilled jobs this country will need not just this year – 2021 – as we bounce back from Covid, but in the years to come.

‘This is an amazing moment for this country. We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it.

‘And I think it will be the overwhelming instinct of the people of this country to come together as one United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland working together to express our values around the world.’

But the future for the UK looks far from certain, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon calling for her own second referendum on Scotland staying part of the UK.

Many in Scotland are angry at being dragged out of the EU despite voting to stay in, and Ms Sturgeon has said it is ‘time to build a future based on what Scotland votes for’.

Meanwhile hauliers in Northern Ireland are approaching the end of the Brexit transition with ‘trepidation’.

Many will keep volumes light for the first few days of 2021 as they wait to see what the impact will be, the industry said.

Logistics UK’s Seamus Leheny said: ‘There is a lot more administration and red tape.’

To avoid disrupting cross-border trade and a return of checkpoints along the politically sensitive Irish border, the EU and UK agreed to move new regulatory and customs processes to the Irish Sea.

That means checks are focused on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Under the terms of the protocol, Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market for goods.

Northern Ireland will also apply EU customs rules at its ports, even though it is still part of the UK customs territory.

When we officially left the EU on January 31, pro-Brexit people held parties to celebrate.

This time around, despite Brexit actually taking effect, gatherings are banned as most of the country is under Tier 4 restrictions and the rest of the country, apart from the Isles of Scilly, is in Tier 3.

People have had to resign themselves to congratulating each other online once a deal was signed, such as Nigel Farage who declared: ‘The war is over’.

But others were much more regretful at leaving, such as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen who quoted Shakespeare as she said: ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’. She said she felt no joy at finishing negotiations, only relief.

For the rest of us, we may now need a visa to stay longer than 90 days in an EU country or to work or study there.

UK citizens no longer have the automatic right to live and work in the EU, and our membership of a post-war community set up to ensure peace and cooperation in Europe is over.

But at least we’ve got those sweet blue passports (which will be made in France).

To see what else will change from today, click here.

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