Now the UK stopped following European Union rules, as replacement arrangements for travel, trade, immigration and security co-operation came into force. PM Boris Johnson said the UK had “freedom in our hands” and the ability to do things “differently and better” now the long Brexit process was over.
But opponents of leaving the EU maintain the country will be worse off. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, whose ambition it is to take an independent Scotland back into the EU, tweeted: “Scotland will be back soon, Europe. Keep the light on.”
BBC Europe editor Katya Adler said there was a sense of relief in Brussels that the Brexit process was over, “but there is regret still at Brexit itself”. The first lorries arriving at the borders entered the UK and EU without delay. But the Stena Line ferries and ports group tweeted that six freight loads travelling from Holyhead in Wales to Ireland on Friday morning had to be turned away due to not having the correct paperwork.
UK ministers have warned there will be some disruption in the coming days and weeks, as new rules bed in and British firms come to terms with the changes. As the first customs checks were completed after midnight, Eurotunnel spokesman John Keefe said: “It all went fine, everything’s running just as it was before 11pm.”
Northern Ireland has different arrangements to other parts of the UK, meaning there will be some customs checks on goods moving between Great Britain and the province. On Friday afternoon, the first ferry from Great Britain operating under the terms of Northern Ireland trading protocol docked in Belfast, on schedule at 13:45 GMT.
Mandy Ridyard, whose aerospace components company makes daily shipments to Northern Ireland, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme she was “filling in the same declaration to send goods to the Philippines that I am sending them within the UK.”
“And obviously that all adds a lot of cost to my business.” The UK officially left the 27-member political and economic bloc on 31 January, three and half years after the UK public voted to leave in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
But it stuck to the EU’s trading rules for 11 months while the two sides negotiated their future economic partnership. A landmark treaty was finally agreed on Christmas Eve, and became law in the UK on Wednesday. Under the new arrangements, UK manufacturers will have tariff-free access to the EU’s internal market, meaning there will be no import taxes on goods crossing between Britain and the continent.
But it does mean more paperwork for businesses and people travelling to EU countries, while there is still uncertainty about what will happen to banking and services. The UK and Spain have also reached an agreement meaning the border between Gibraltar and Spain will remain open.
Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s chief minister, said the deal still needed to be formalised, but by abolishing controls between Gibraltar and the EU’s passport-free Schengen area, he said it would prevent queues at the border “which make people’s lives a misery and make business difficult”.