Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised a “new era of friendly cooperation” with the European Union on Friday as Britain prepared to leave the bloc after almost five decades.
In a public address broadcast one hour before Brexit, Johnson acknowledged there may be “bumps in the road” ahead but promised the departure was an opportunity for “stunning success”.
“The most important thing to say tonight is that this is not an end but a beginning,” he said in a pre-recorded statement from Downing Street.
Britain remains as split over Brexit as it was in the 2016 referendum. But after more than three years of wrangling, it leaves the EU at 11:00 pm (2300 GMT).
“For many people this is an astonishing moment of hope, a moment they thought would never come,” Johnson said.
“And there are many of course who feel a sense of anxiety and loss.
“And then there’s 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.”
He said the EU, which Britain joined in 1973 and of which it has been often a reluctant member, had many “admirable qualities.”
But it had evolved over the last half century “in a direction that no longer suits this country.”
“We want this to be the beginning of a new era of friendly cooperation between the EU and an energetic Britain,” he said.
“A Britain that is simultaneously a great European power, and truly global in our range and ambitions.”
He added: “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.
“And whatever the bumps in the road ahead, I know that we will succeed.”
He said Britain would use its “recaptured sovereignty” to deliver change, whether by controlling immigration, “liberating our fishing industry” or doing free trade deals.
Brexit was “potentially a moment of real national renewal and change,” he argued, promising to invest in public services, infrastructure and new technology across the country.
“We have obeyed the will of the people. We have taken back the tools of self-government,” he concluded.
“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.”