Last night, Britain officially left the EU. In the UK, some cheered and some despaired. The most fervent Brexit backers had petitioned—unsuccessfully—for London’s Big Ben to commemorate the moment.
The withdrawal will have effects beyond the UK’s borders, of course, and the historic event has been marked in various ways across Europe.
At the EU Council building in Brussels yesterday, officials removed the British flag from the array representing the union’s members. The UK Representation Office in the city similarly lowered its EU flag. Reuters reported that the nameplate on the building will be changed to its new name, the UK Mission to the European Union, which is already being nicknamed “UKmissEU.”
In the days before, the Belgian capital had held a festival in celebration of its friendship with the UK, including music and a light show beaming the colors of the Union Jack in the central square, the Grand Place. City officials rented a black London cab, and two dressed as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson for pictures. For the festivities, the Manneken Pis—the famed statue of the urinating boy—wore a Union Jack waistcoat.
The friendly wishes were a theme in Germany too, where chancellor Angela Merkel said in a video statement, “It cuts deep for Germany and all the remaining 27 member states, but we want to remain a close partner and friend of Britain.” A video from German news outlet Spiegel showed Europeans saying goodbye to the UK, while the paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung suggested those in need of a lift turn to Monty Python’s tune “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
Other responses could be viewed as more biting. Austria had intended to release a commemorative stamp on the date originally planned for Brexit in March 2019. Bloomberg reports that when Brexit was delayed the postal service wound up with 140,000 incorrectly dated stamps. Rather than scrap them, Austria has instead released the stamp (link in German) with that date crossed out and Jan. 31, 2020, simply printed underneath.
French president Emmanuel Macron delivered a brief televised address yesterday during which he said the 2016 referendum “was made up of lies, exaggeration and simplification, of cheques that were written but will never be honored.” He called it a sad day and a historic warning sign, and added “we need more Europe” in the face of competition from the US and China.
Little will change right away for those inside or outside the UK. A transition period now begins, during which British prime minister Boris Johnson will attempt to strike a trade deal with the EU. Brexit has come and gone, but the drama isn’t over yet.