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EU chiefs hail 'new dawn for Europe' as UK quits

Britain's 47-year membership of the bloc will end on the stroke of 2300 GMT -- midnight Brussels time, three and a half years after a shock referendum vote to leave.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (L), European Council President Charles Michel (R) and European Parliament President David Sassoli (C) arrive for a meeting near The European Parliament in Brussels on 31 January 2020. Picture: AFP

BRUSSELS - The EU's three chiefs hailed Britain's departure from the bloc on Friday as "a new dawn for Europe", warning London would not keep the benefits of membership when it leaves.

Charles Michel, Ursula von der Leyen and David Sassoli - the presidents of the EU Council, European Commission and European Parliament, respectively - used an open letter published in European newspapers to say they would do "everything in their power" to make the new relationship with Britain a success.

Britain's 47-year membership of the bloc will end on the stroke of 2300 GMT - midnight Brussels time, three and a half years after a shock referendum vote to leave.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to "get Brexit done" and unite the country in a new era of prosperity, but months of difficult negotiations with Brussels about the shape of future ties lie ahead.

The three EU leaders made clear they would not roll over easily or allow Britain to "have its cake and eat it", insisting Britain could not have full access to the EU market unless it agrees to follow European labour, taxation and environmental rules.

"How close that partnership will be depends on decisions that are still to be taken," they wrote.

"Without being a member, you cannot retain the benefits of membership."

Nothing will immediately feel different thanks to an 11-month transition period negotiated as part of an EU-UK exit deal ratified this week.

Britons will be able to work in and trade freely with EU nations until 31 December, and vice versa, although the UK will no longer be represented in the bloc's institutions.

While Brexit supporters are celebrating, the EU leaders said they would approach the day as one of "reflection and mixed emotions", reiterating their deep regret at Britain's departure.

"But tomorrow will also mark a new dawn for Europe," they went on.

"The last few years have brought us closer together - as nations, as institutions and as people. This is why the Member States of Europe will continue to join forces and build a common future."