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Britain approaches a historic change.
At 11 p.m. on Friday — midnight in Brussels, and 6 p.m. in New York — Britain will officially depart from the European Union, 1,317 days after voting in favor of leaving the bloc in a referendum that plunged the country into a three-year-long debate over its future.
While this will be the official end of 47 years of Britain’s membership in what became the European Union, very little is set to change immediately. It’s the beginning of a transition period, scheduled to end on Dec. 31, during which London and Brussels must hash out the details of Britain’s future relationship with its European neighbors. Still, the moment carries enormous legal and symbolic weight.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his cabinet were to begin their day with a meeting in Sunderland, the city in northern England that was the first to announce it had voted in favor of leaving the European Union on the night of the 2016 referendum.
It was the first of a handful of celebratory, but noticeably muted, official events to mark the day, suggesting that a pro-Brexit government is seeking to avoid the appearance of gloating. In the referendum, 48 percent of voters wanted to remain part of the European Union, and later polls suggest that number may have grown since.
Flags will line Parliament Square and The Mall, the ceremonial avenue leading to Buckingham Palace, and government buildings will be lit up in the red, white and blue of the Union Jack.
A countdown clock will be projected onto the front of 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence, along with a commemorative light display to “symbolize the strength and unity” of the four nations of the United Kingdom, the government said.
But a campaign for a celebratory 11 p.m. chime from Big Ben — the great bell of Parliament’s clock tower, which is currently silenced for restoration work — did not succeed.
In Brussels, the three presidents of the European Union institutions will give a joint statement Friday morning, expected to reflect a jointly published article in which they detail a hopeful future for the union.
Front pages reveal a divided Britain.
The front pages of the country’s main newspapers offered several interpretations of Britain’s final day in the European Union.
Some celebrated the coming of a new dawn while others offered a bleak picture of the twilight of an era of cooperation.
“Yes, We Did It!” declared the tabloid Daily Express, while The Daily Mail, another conservative, pro-Brexit paper, lauded “A New Dawn for Britain,” with a photograph of the sunbathed white cliffs of Dover, 62 miles from the French coast.
The liberal and pro-European Guardian offered the headline “Small island,” with a miniature union flag planted in a crumbling sand castle on a beach, the same white cliffs visible in the distance. What comes next is uncertain, the paper wrote, calling Brexit the biggest gamble in a generation.
The I, another paper with liberal leanings, had “U.K.’s leap into the unknown” overlaid on a satellite view of Western Europe at night, a perspective that emphasized Britain’s physical closeness to its European Union neighbors.
The headline on the Edinburgh-based The Scotsman was “Farewell, not goodbye,” with the British, Scottish and European flags — a nod to reinvigorated calls for Scottish independence from Britain. Scots voted against independence in a 2014 referendum, but then voted strongly to remain in European Union two years later.
That divergence from England has helped fuel calls for a second referendum on Scottish independence, with the suggestion that an independent Scotland could then rejoin the European Union.
For those Britons already missing Europe, The Times of London promoted a travel supplement full of European escapes and the “Best places to stay in touch with the Continent.” And, finally, The Daily Star saw a reason to celebrate, but not the one other tabloids were highlighting.
“Tonight is a TRULY HISTORIC moment for our great nation,” blared the cover of what it called a souvenir edition. “That’s right, it’s the end of dry January.”
Christine Lagarde offers reassurances.
Christine Lagarde, Europe’s top central banker, said she was sorry that Britain was leaving the European Union, but offered assurances that the split could take place without disrupting the financial system.
“It is with great regret that we see our British friends leave the European Union,” Ms. Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, said in a statement. “We will work hard to ensure Brexit causes as little disruption as possible for the citizens, employers and financial markets in the euro area and the rest of the E.U.”
The European Central Bank and the Bank of England have already set up a system to swap pounds and euros to ensure that banks don’t run short of either currency. Bank regulators on both sides have agreed to continue sharing information. And the European Central Bank has already issued licenses for 25 banks relocating from Britain to the euro currency zone.
Britain was never a member of the eurozone. But as a member of the European Union it contributed about 58 million euros, or $64 million, to the European Central Bank’s capital. It will now get that money back.
E.U. leaders lament the loss and look to the future.
In an opinion article published across the European press, the presidents of the three main European Union institutions called Brexit Friday a “new dawn” for Europe.
After offering kind words on Britain’s departure, Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission, Charles Michel of the European Council and David Sassoli of the European Parliament tried to strike an upbeat tone.
“We need to look to the future and build a new partnership between enduring friends,” they wrote. “Together, our three institutions will do everything in their power to make it a success. We are ready to be ambitious.”
The article was published alongside a cheery video touting the European Union’s economic and climate-friendly credentials and maintaining that its remaining 27 members were “#strongertogether.”
Brussels wants the message to be clear, because while Britain’s departure has yet to inspire strong withdrawal movements in other countries, as some expected immediately after the 2016 referendum, many Europeans are disillusioned with the project of ever closer union.
“We have a common vision of where we want to go and a commitment to be ambitious on the defining issues of our times,” the three presidents said. “That work continues as soon as the sun rises tomorrow.”
Megan Specia, Elian Peltier, Jack Ewing and Matina Stevis-Gridneff contributed reporting.