Boris Johnson says UK has 'taken back self-government' as Britain leaves the EU after 47 years
Boris Johnson said Britain had "taken back the tools of self-government" as Britain formally left the European Union after years of political drama.
The Prime Minister vowed to use the country's "recaptured sovereignty" to build "a moment of real national renewal and change" at the moment the UK's 47-year membership of the bloc came to an end.
From 11pm on 31 January, Britain enters an 11-month transition period with the EU, in which it will remain broadly aligned to the bloc's rules and trading arrangements until the end of the year.
But Friday evening - marked by a light display at Number 10 and a televised address from the Prime Minister - still signals the country's legal divorce from Brussels after decades of membership, and triggers the quest to strike a new deal with the EU in the months ahead.
In a speech clearly aimed at uniting the country's Brexit factions, Mr Johnson acknowledged that the UK's departure from the bloc would prompt mixed feelings.
"Tonight we are leaving the European Union," he said.
"For many people this is an astonishing moment of hope, a moment they thought would never come. And there are many of course who feel a sense of anxiety and loss.
"And then of course there is a third group – perhaps the biggest – who had started to worry that the whole political wrangle would never come to an end.
"I understand all those feelings, and our job as the government – my job – is to bring this country together now and take us forward."
Mr Johnson - the third person to occupy the job of Prime Minister since the 2016 EU vote - said Brexit marked "not an end but a beginning", as he added: "This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act in our great national drama.
"And yes it is partly about using these new powers – this recaptured sovereignty – to deliver the changes people voted for.
"Whether that is by controlling immigration or creating freeports or liberating our fishing industry or doing free trade deals, or simply making our laws and rules for the benefit of the people of this country.
"And of course I think that is the right and healthy and democratic thing to do. Because for all its strengths and for all its admirable qualities, the EU has evolved over 50 years in a direction that no longer suits this country."
And the Prime Minister said Brexit was "far bigger" than a "legal extrication" from the bloc, as he vowed to try and address some of the reasons voted had opted to quit the bloc in "a moment of real national renewal and change".
He added: "We want this to be the beginning of a new era of friendly cooperation between the EU and an energetic Britain.
"A Britain that is simultaneously a great European power, and truly global in our range and ambitions.
"And when I look at this country’s incredible assets: Our scientists, our engineers, our world-leading universities, our armed forces, when I look at the potential of this country waiting to be unleashed: I know that we can turn this opportunity into a stunning success."
Rounding off his address, the Prime Minister said: "We have obeyed the people. We have taken back the tools of self-government.
"Now is the time to use those tools to unleash the full potential of this brilliant country and to make better the lives of everyone in every corner of our United Kingdom."
CORBYN: ONLY THE BEGINNING
The comments come after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Friday night's EU departure marked "only the beginning" of Britain's quest to strike out on its own.
"Trade negotiations with Europe aren’t scheduled to start until March," the outgoing opposition boss said in his own video message.
"We will hold the government to account every step of the way to protect jobs and living standards, to guarantee the rights of EU nationals here in the UK, and of UK nationals in Europe and to defend protections for workers and our environment.
"And we will resist a toxic Trump deal that puts our NHS, food safety and jobs at risk.
"The choice of which path we take for a post-Brexit Britain now lies before us."