UK Brexit celebrations 'quietly' planned for landmark departure
Brexit battles reignite as rival camps fight to put alternative messages on England's White Cliffs of Dover
Events involving thousands of people have been organised across Britain to mark the last day of almost 50 years of EU membership on Friday.
The landmark moment will bring to a close three and a half years of political stalemate and rancour since the referendum vote of 2016 left division between Leavers and Remainers.
From firework displays on the south coast designed to be seen in France, to picnics by the Parliament palace in London, to festival-style tea parties in the northern English heartland of the leave movement, the UK is prepared to exit the EU amid great fanfare.
“We have waited more than three years for this moment,” business owner Sarah Isles said. “People have been fed up for a long time.
“We won the vote and politicians who did not agree with how the nation voted have argued and dragged their feet and left the UK in a bad position.
"Businesses need Brexit to happen now so we can start moving on. It’s time people started buying British again and we invested in our own industries.”
Ms Isles, 51, runs an Italian restaurant in the Yorkshire town of Wakefield, where she employs a workforce from the EU. She is looking forward to Friday’s departure with hope.
“British waters should be given back to our fishermen, money sent to the EU should be invested at home in our National Health Service and our traditional industries, such as the steel and car sectors.
“I want to see money being used in the NHS to fund more doctors and nurses, to enable people to get an appointment when they need one.
"Things are not going to change overnight but in time they will for the better.”
Ms Isles is not alone in hoping Brexit will revitalise the UK. Factory worker Nigel Clark, 32, said he wanted less labour market competition.
“Workers from the EU come to the UK and take much-needed jobs,” Mr Clark said. “They take lower salaries and are more desirable to businesses.
"But firms should be investing in the UK’s homegrown workforce. I’m hoping [Prime Minister] Boris Johnson will keep his promise and bring in tougher immigration controls.”
Most parties are taking place in the northern industrial heartlands that mainly voted for Brexit.
The voters in these areas made clear their frustrations at the years of Brexit delay in the December general election.
After decades of supporting the Labour Party, they voted for Mr Johnson’s Conservatives to bring change.
Many in these regions felt betrayed that their vote for Brexit had been ignored by the politicians representing them.
It led to a landslide victory for Mr Johnson and the end of a political impasse as he vowed to “get Brexit done”.
One of the Brexit beneficiaries was Conservative politician Imran Khan who won back the Labour held seat of Wakefield after almost 90 years.
Mr Khan has vowed to invest in the NHS in the city after Brexit.
“It’s finally here,” he tweeted. “This is the week we Get Brexit Done.
"Together we will make the changes needed to unleash the potential of our great city.”
The main northern celebration will be the Big Brexit Bash in Yorkshire on Friday evening, as supporters count down to the 11pm exit from the bloc.
The organisers, Morley and Outwood MP Andrea Jenkyns and Yorkshire Member of the European Parliament Lucy Harris, are expecting hundreds to attend.
“It will be an evening of live music, food and fireworks to celebrate this significant moment in our country’s history," Ms Jenkyns said. "Tickets are selling fast.
“I’m so pleased we’ve finally got here. Well done everyone who has worked hard to ensure the referendum result was upheld. Onwards to a truly global Britain.”
The venue is being kept secret until you buy a ticket for the private event. The same for celebrations in Manchester, Cambridge and other cities.
It is not the mass fanfare the more vocal campaigners once envisaged and the fight for Brexit is still not over.
The White Cliffs of Dover, which once played a pivotal role on the front line of Britain’s war efforts, are now a battleground for rival groups.
Anti-Brexit campaigners have paid for a gigantic pro-EU banner to adorn the cliffs, saying “We Still Love EU”.
“Every pound pledged sends a message to the world that we still value relationships beyond our borders," said the organiser, Liberal Democrat MEP Antony Hook.
“Sadly, we can't stop Brexit now, but we can send a strong message to the world that we still love Europe.
"We might be leaving, but whether you voted leave or remain we still want good relations with our nearest neighbours in the future. Our banner will be 150 square metres, which is huge.”
But an alternative campaign is funding a separate banner saying “We Love the UK” and planning fireworks that “can be seen from France”.
Despite the clashes from the different camps, experts say nothing will change after January 31. Eleven months of intense negotiations will begin until the December 2020 transition date.
“The practical realities of Brexit will not be felt on February 1, 2020,” a report from the Get Brexit Done think tank said. The transition is largely a standstill agreement, preserving the status quo.
“The change at the end of the transition will, on the other hand, be significant.
"Under the deal envisaged by the government, border controls and checks will come into force, a new immigration system must be in place to replace free movement, changes to fisheries and agricultural policy will begin, and public bodies and regulators will need to take on new roles and responsibilities.
“The realities of Brexit, from a practical and administrative perspective, will be obvious for the first time at the end of 2020.”
In a report last week, the Institute for Government think tank said Mr Johnson was highly unlikely to be able to meet his promise of a smooth transition.
“This is a huge task, particularly considering the 11-month time frame the government has to negotiate and implement a new deal,” it said.
“It is likely the UK will be only partially ready by the end of December 2020.”
One of the major challenges will be avoiding a staffing crisis in the country’s politically sensitive national system of health care.
Mr Johnson’s proposed points-based entry system for new migrants after 2021 cuts off much of the needed low-paid staff.
“Staff shortages across the NHS are a real challenge, for example," wrote Jonathon Holmes, of the Kings Fund think tank.
"Our calculations show that the NHS requires an additional 5,000 internationally recruited nurses per year to prevent the shortages getting worse.
“Any post-Brexit migration policy that impedes this could have serious implications for future staffing of the NHS."
Updated: February 2, 2020 11:37 AM