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Into the Brexit unknown, a dis-United Kingdom exits the European Union

LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom leaves the European Union an hour before midnight on Friday, casting off into an uncertain Brexit future that also challenges Europe’s post-World War Two project of forging unity from the ruins of conflict.

A British Union Jack flag flutters outside of the European Parliament ahead of the vote on the Brexit deal in Brussels, Belgium January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

After the twists and turns of the Brexit crisis, the country’s most significant geopolitical move since the loss of empire could be an anticlimax of sorts: a transition period preserves membership in all but name until the end of 2020.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has given little clue to what the future holds, promising only to restore confidence for people and businesses.

“We’ll be out of the EU, free to chart our own course as a sovereign nation,” said Johnson, the New York-born face of the campaign to leave the EU.

But the June 2016 Brexit referendum showed a nation divided about more than Europe and triggered soul-searching about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, empire and modern Britishness.

Strains exacerbated by Brexit could even lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom: England and Wales voted to leave the bloc but Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.

The EU, meanwhile, must bid farewell to 15% of its economy, its biggest military spender and the City of London, the world’s international financial capital.

Some will celebrate Brexit, some will weep — but many Britons will do neither.

At home, government advertisements proclaim the Jan. 31 exit date while a newly minted 50-pence coin celebrates the end of 47 years of membership by imploring “peace,

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