New era for Britain divided when leaving the EU

LONDON: Britain ended almost half a century of membership in the European Union on Friday, making a historic exit after years of bitter arguments to chart its own uncertain path in the world.

There were celebrations and tears across the country when the often reluctant member of the EU became the first to leave an organization created to forge unity among nations after the horrors of World War II.

Thousands of people waving Union Jack flags filled the London Parliament Square to mark the time of Brexit at 11 pm (2300 GMT) - midnight in Brussels.

We did it! declared Nigel Farage, the former member of the European Parliament who has campaigned for Brexit for years, before the crowd began singing the national anthem.

It was a meeting largely of good character, apart from a supporter of Brexit who previously lit an EU flag.

But Brexit has exposed deep divisions in British society, and many fear the consequences of ending 47 years of ties with their closest neighbors.

Some pro-Europeans, including many of the 3.6 million EU citizens who lived in Britain, marked the occasion with solemn candlelight vigils.

Brexit has also provoked an examination of conscience in the EU about its own future after losing 66 million people, a great worldwide diplomatic success and the influence of the financial center of the city of London.

In a speech to the nation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a figurehead in the 2016 seismic referendum vote for Brexit, acknowledged that there could be obstacles along the way.

But he said Britain could make it a surprising success.

While celebrating a private party at his Downing Street office, a clock projected on the outside walls counted the minutes to Brexit.

Johnson predicted a new era of friendly cooperation with the EU, while Britain has a more important role on the world stage.

The most important thing to say tonight is that this is not an end but a beginning, he said in a televised speech.