A new era has dawned in the United Kingdom, which has turned its back on a 48-year liaison with the European project for an uncertain post-Brexit future.
The UK left the EU’s vast single market for people, goods and services at 23:00 GMT, midnight in Brussels, on Thursday, New Year’s Eve, as the Brexit transition period expired 11 months after the country formally left the bloc on January 31.
As 2021 began, attention turned to the UK borders, particularly the key Channel seaports, to see if the end to seamless trade and travel would cause delays and disruption.
But with New Year’s Day a public holiday followed by a weekend, and the government having announced the phased introduction of checks, few immediate problems were envisaged.
“The traffic forecast for the next few days is very light,” said John Keefe, spokesman for Eurotunnel, which transports freight, cars and coaches under the Channel.
As the first ferry left the Port of Dover early on Friday, truckers rolling into the port city of Calais, in northern France, had to deal for the first time with the new rules for transporting goods to and from mainland Europe.
A barcode on Romanian driver Toma Moise’s paperwork was scanned and approved in seconds.
“The future, I don’t think it will be difficult,” he said, before continuing his journey towards Britain.
Supporters view Brexit as the dawn of a newly independent “global Britain”.
Critics say it reverses decades of integration with its closest neighbours, threatens to harm the economy and, at worst, could lead to the breakup of the UK by weakening the bonds that bind England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to a $3 trillion economy.
In the 2016 vote, a majority in England and Wales voted in favour of exiting the bloc, while most in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted in favour of remaining an EU member.
Northern Ireland, which shares a border with EU member Ireland, remains closely tied to the bloc’s economy under the post-Brexit agreement.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, Brexit has bolstered support for independence after 300 years of political union between England and Scotland.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said an independence referendum should take place in the earlier part of Scotland’s devolved parliament’s next term, which begins next year.
“Scotland will be back soon, Europe. Keep the light on,” Sturgeon tweeted on Thursday evening.
In the last referendum on Scottish independence from the UK, 55 percent voted against.