EU seeks to put brave face on Brexit day, warns UK of costs of divergence

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders sought to put a brave face on Brexit on Friday, saying the remaining 27 countries united can tackle climate change and technological transformation despite losing a member state for the first time.

European Council President Charles Michel, EU Parliament President David Sassoli and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen give a speech on the future of Europe in Brussels, Belgium January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Britain leaves the EU at midnight – or 2300 UK time – on Friday after nearly half a century of close-knit cooperation, marking a victory for eurosceptics and dealing a major blow to post-World War Two European integration.

“Our experience has taught us that strength does not lie in splendid isolation but in our unique union,” the head of the European Union’s executive, Ursula von der Leyen, told a news conference ahead of Britain’s departure.

“The challenges that Europe faces and the opportunities that it can grasp have not changed because of Brexit,” she said, adding that the EU must focus on leading the way globally on tackling climate change, the digital revolution and migration.

After three and a half years of tortuous divorce negotiations, Britain and the EU will now launch new talks on a post-Brexit relationship ranging from security to trade.

The EU told Britain on Friday it cannot expect “the highest quality access to the single market” unless it adopts EU standards on the environment, workers’ rights, tax and state aid.

“Without being a member, you cannot retain the benefits of membership,” EU leaders including von der Leyen said in an op-ed published by European media.

“Without the free movement of people, there can be no free movement of capital,

 »