Boris Johnson says 'we obeyed the people' at historic moment Britain leaves Europe

31 January 2020, 21:59

By Asher McShane

The Prime Minister tonight heralded the breaking of a new dawn as Britain departed the EU after 47 years, saying Brexit would "unleash the full potential" of the UK.

In a speech to the nation, Boris Johnson said that government had “obeyed the people” as he hailed the long-awaited arrival of Brexit, but acknowledged the disappointment of millions of Brits who wanted to remain in Europe.

Mr Johnson said: “Tonight we are leaving the European Union.

“For many people this is an astonishing moment of hope, a moment they thought would never come.

Boris Johnson addressed the national heralding a new dawn for post Brexit Britain
Boris Johnson addressed the national heralding a new dawn for post Brexit Britain. Picture: No10

“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.

“And the most important thing to say tonight is that this is not an end but a beginning.

“This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act in our great national drama.”

Attention has already turned to the next set of talks aimed at securing the future relationship which will apply from January 1, 2021.

Across Europe there was a level of sadness at Britain’s departure.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said relations with the UK would never be as close once it is outside the EU.

"We want to have the best possible relationship with the United Kingdom, but it will never be as good as membership," she said.

Earlier today Mr Johnson chaired a meeting of the cabinet in Sunderland, the first place to back Brexit on the night of the 2016 referendum.

On a day filled with symbolic moments:

- The Union flag was removed from the European Union institutions in Brussels

- The Cabinet met in Sunderland, the first city to declare in favour of Brexit when the 2016 results were announced

- Brexiteers gathered for a party in Parliament Square, with some jumping on an EU flag in the mud

- The White Cliffs of Dover were used to send pro-EU messages

- A 50p coin to mark the occasion entered circulationIn his speech the Prime Minister said he wanted to use “new powers” and “recaptured sovereignty” to deliver the changes the British public hoped for when they voted to leave.

“And yes it is partly about using these new powers – this recaptured sovereignty – to deliver the changes people voted for,” he said.

“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 that is a judgment that you, the people, have now confirmed at the polls, not once but twice, and yet this moment is far bigger than that.”

He said that Brexit is “the dawn of a new era in which we no longer accept that your life chances – your family’s life chances - should depend on which part of the country you grow up in.”

He continued: “This is the moment when we really begin to unite and level up - defeating crime, transforming our NHS, and with better education, with superb technology.

“And with the biggest revival of our infrastructure since the Victorians, we will spread hope and opportunity to every part of the UK.

“And if we can get this right I believe that with every month that goes by we will grow in confidence not just at home but abroad.

“In our diplomacy, in our fight against climate change, in our campaigns for human rights or female education or free trade we will rediscover muscles that we have not used for decades, the power of independent thought and action.

“Not because we want to detract from anything done by our EU friends – of course not.

“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.

“Whatever the bumps in the road ahead, I know that we will succeed.

“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.”

The EU’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt wrote online with hours left until Brexit: “It’s not over.

“Churchill’s aspirational words still hold true today more than ever. ‘Men will be proud to say ‘I am a European’.

“We hope to see a day when men of every country will think as much of being a European as of being from their native land.”

Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier wrote: “An emotional day. Unity. Transparency. Respect. Our work continues.”