(CN) – The channel that separates the United Kingdom and Europe is widening – politically, socially, economically. Brexit day is here and with it many fear the future will be worse for people on both sides of the English Channel – or, as the French say, La Manche.
At 11 p.m. in London (midnight in Brussels), the formal separation of the U.K. from the European Union will take effect, 1,317 days after British voters in June 2016 shocked the world by choosing to reject continuing their membership in the EU, the world's largest trading bloc, and opt for an uncertain go-it-alone future.
It was a referendum result layered with meanings: A revolt against multi-nationalism, globalization, elites, immigrants, a growing European state. British exceptionalism and a pining for a past when Britain was an empire moved people to vote in favor of Brexit too.
The drive to exit the EU was won also thanks to a campaign of deceit, misinformation and fear-mongering by those championing Brexit – most notably the man who now resides in No. 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Even with Brexit finally taking place, the debate over this divorce is far from over in the U.K. Celebrations and protests are taking place in London. Nasty arguments and taunts between so-called leavers and remainers continue on social media. New political fights are brewing: An EU flag is still flying over the Scottish parliament building in Edinburgh and Scottish leaders are demanding that Scotland be allowed to hold an independence referendum so it can rejoin the EU as its own nation.
In reality, very little is going to change immediately. Until at least the end of the year, the U.K. will remain aligned to EU rules, laws and courts with trade and travel carrying on as it has. The U.K. will even continue its payments into the EU budget until then.
In the meantime, the two sides will enter into complex talks to find agreement on everything from trade and defense to fishing rights and aviation rules. The EU wants the U.K. to abide by European rules in exchange for full access to its large market, but the U.K. is looking to scrap many of those rules as it seeks to compete with the EU and sign new trade deals.
For now, Brexit fans are crowing and declare the future bright.
“This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act,” Johnson is set to say in prerecorded remarks to celebrate the U.K.'s departure.
Pro-Brexit newspapers are chiming in too: “Our Time Has Come,” the Sun tabloid blared on its front page, saying Britain had thrown off the “creeping danger of a European superstate.”
But it's far from clear if either side will come out of this better off.
Britain stands to lose economically – already, its economy has been hurt by Brexit and some companies have fled. Politically, its clout may be diminished. Its citizens, meanwhile, may face barriers to living, studying and working in the EU in the future and British companies may find it harder to recruit workers. Also, Brexit poses existential problems to the U.K.'s nationhood because a majority of people in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted against Brexit and independence drives are growing in both regions.