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Great Britain Set To Leave European Union Tonight



Britain has finally left the European Union. It has been a chaotic divisive journey that paralyzed British politics. And we are going to hear now from the heart of British politics. NPR's Frank Langfitt is in Parliament Square in London, where Brexit supporters have gathered.

Hi, Frank.


KELLY: Hey. Tell me where exactly you are, what the mood is.

LANGFITT: Well, the mood is pretty jubilant. The country is now out of the European Union. As you heard there at the beginning, those were bongs from Big Ben. But it's under scaffolding, so those were actually recorded bongs that they played to celebrate. And now there are fireworks going off right now. There are also police here in force because it's not been a rowdy crowd yet, but it can get a little bit rowdy. And then...


KELLY: Whoa.

LANGFITT: Whoa, you hear fireworks right there.

KELLY: I was about say, it's getting rowdy as we speak.

LANGFITT: It is. But what's interesting is when you talk to people here, they see this - they talk about it's their independence from the European Union. And they see this as a way for the United Kingdom to take back control of making its own laws and things like that. And earlier this afternoon, when things were a little calmer, I was down here talking to a woman named Gilly Betts, who's a retired nurse, and I asked her how she felt about all this, and this is how she put it.

GILLY BETTS: Very happy. Extremely happy.

LANGFITT: Tell me why.

BETTS: Because our country is coming back, that we're able to have a voice again. The EU seemed to dictate what was happening in this country.

LANGFITT: Did you think this day would ever come?

BETTS: No (laughter). No.

KELLY: So she says, we'll be able to have a voice again, Frank. But what actually changes as of this moment right now?

LANGFITT: Actually, very little at all, Mary Louise, and that's by design. Trade and free movement is going to continue across the English Channel just as it has for many, many years. And basically, the countries - the U.K. and the European Union, they've entered a transition period right now.

And they're going to have 11 months to work out a new free trade agreement, which is going to be very difficult because the EU is going to want a closer trade relationship; the United Kingdom is going to want a lot more independence. And that may mean that the United Kingdom doesn't get the kind of things that it really wants, which could hurt its economy more.

KELLY: And you're there in the thick of people celebrating this tonight. But what about people who feel very differently, the remainers who voted to keep Britain in the European Union? What are they saying today?

LANGFITT: Yeah. I'll give you an example - a completely different scene this afternoon, a candlelight vigil outside of the European Commission office here in London, a sense of sadness and acceptance. And there was a guy named Jonathan Ellen, an elementary school teacher, and he sort of talked about - he didn't know how he was going to make sense of all of this to his students, and this is what he said.

JONATHAN ELLEN: It's heartbreaking, as their teacher, to try and explain all the lessons that we've taught them for years and years and years. In this instance, our country's doing something different. We're not working together. We're not thinking about the future.

LANGFITT: And it was really interesting - right after that, about a dozen Brexiteers walked up. They started taunting the EU supporters while they were holding their candles. And the Brexiteers started chanting and singing. You can hear it right now.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Bye, bye, EU - bye, bye. Bye, bye, EU...

LANGFITT: And what they're singing there is goodbye, EU, to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne."

KELLY: Very briefly, Scotland - what are they going to do next?

LANGFITT: Nicola Sturgeon, head of the Scottish National Party, she wants an independence vote this year. It probably would be maybe two or three years from now, if they get it at all. Boris Johnson is against it. And so that's the next fight.

KELLY: NPR's Frank Langfitt in London on a wild night tonight.

Thanks so much, Frank.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Mary Louise.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLENDERBODIES' "OPAL OCEAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.