London (AFP) – Brexit supporters gathered outside parliament on Friday to cheer Britain’s departure from the European Union following three years of epic political drama — but for others there were only tears.
After 47 years in the European fold, the country leaves the EU at 11:00pm (2300 GMT) on Friday, with a handful of the most enthusiastic supporters gathering opposite the Houses of Parliament 12 hours before the final countdown.
“It’s a great relief that we’re finally leaving the EU,” said Wayne Green, 48.
“It’s no disrespect to members of the EU countries, utter respect for them all the time. But the EU is a con, it’s been a con since we started and I’m so glad that we’re leaving.”
Others were there to commiserate, wearing EU berets and holding signs reading “we’ll be back”, and “you have destroyed my future career and dreams”.
“People are really, really depressed about this and some people may do silly things — we’ve already had one attempted suicide,” said accountant Peter Benson, 57.
“As a group we will be all together, we will be supporting each other, we will be crying together but we will wake up tomorrow morning and we will feel so, so sad,” he said.
“Grief, sadness,” added women’s rights activist Katrina Graham, 31.
“It’s deeply, deeply appalling that this is actually happening.
“There’s so much exhaustion about the times we thought it was going to come, so it’s very hard to believe it was really going to be here.”
– ‘Utter disaster’ –
The Brexit backers waved the Union Jack flag while one man came dressed in an oversized “Keep America Great” hat.
While the two groups largely kept apart, there was a minor flashpoint when one man placed his paintings — depicting a naked Prime Minister Boris Johnson riding a donkey — at the foot of Parliament Square’s Winston Churchill statue.
“He’s very rude, very rude. A lot of people don’t know history and they don’t respect tradition, they don’t respect the culture,” said Nados Adhanom, 36, who works in a bakery.
“You can’t just bring naked pictures and put them there,” she added. “I told the man he can go anywhere, that’s his right, but not there.”
The exchange reflected similar arguments that have raged across the country for more than three years, after Britain voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum, and emotions are still raw.
“I think it’s an utter disaster, it’s awful,” said Daniel Price, a sales director from Brighton, on England’s south coast.
– ‘We are being too polite’ –
But the mood was more buoyant in the industrial towns of northern England that voted heavily to leave.
“In London it is going to be decked today with Union Jacks, I am very pleased,” said 82-year-old Ada Sowerby in the northeastern coastal town of Hartlepool, where voters opted to leave by a margin of almost 70 percent.
“I’m pleased, it’s about time, this has taken far longer than it should have,” added fellow resident Eric Horsley.
While Brexiteers got ready to mark the historic moment, Remainers were already looking ahead to rejoining the EU.
“I’m certain the UK will be returning to the EU in the future, in maybe 10 years,” said Benson.
“France and Hong Kong have shown the way how to protest; we are being too polite.
“We should’ve been on the street blocking traffic, motorways, whatever. We need to do that next time.”