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The U.K. Has Left The EU. What's Next For Britain?


Late last night, thousands of people poured into Parliament Square in London to count down to Brexit.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Four, three, two, one.


MONTAGNE: After decades of economic integration with Europe, the U.K. is on its own - sort of. For more to explain what comes next, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Good morning.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And describe for us the celebration last night. We heard a bit of it. What did you see?

LANGFITT: Well, there were thousands of people in Parliament Square, people wearing Union Jack flags as capes. There were fireworks, lots of smoke. Then a totally different kind of scene in other parts of the city, where a lot of people wanted to remain in the EU. There was candlelight vigils. It felt almost funereal.

And then up in Scotland, something very different and a sense of what could be on the horizon. Nicola Sturgeon - she's the head of the Scottish National Party - she's pushing for a second referendum for Scotland independence. She wants to secede from the United Kingdom and rejoin the European Union.

And, frankly, the most interesting image last night for me, Renee, was in Brussels. It was at the EU Commission building. And they had an image of Europe and Scotland, those two words intersecting. And the message seemed to be, come back to Europe, Scotland.

MONTAGNE: OK. Well, the U.K.'s been out of the EU for a few hours now. And what has changed?

LANGFITT: Not much. Basically, they've gone into an 11-month transition period. So free trade and free movement will be the way it has always been. And what they now have is a very short window to work out a new free trade deal by the end of this year. And then there's the risk if they can't - I certainly hope this doesn't happen - the U.K. could still crash out of the EU with no deal at all.

MONTAGNE: Well, British politics have been chaotic over these past three years - I mean, dramatically so. What kind of tone is Prime Minister Boris Johnson striking now that the country is looking forward?

LANGFITT: Well, I think Johnson wants to try to turn the page, reunify the country and kind of infuse Britain with a sense of optimism, which has been totally lacking, as you're pointing out. And he gave a taped speech last night. And this is a little of what he said.


PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: It is potentially a moment of real national renewal and change. This is the dawn of a new era in which we no longer accept that your life chances, your family's life chances should depend on which part of the country you grow up.

LANGFITT: And so the key points here is what Boris Johnson is focusing on, Renee, is really the domestic situation, the economy. And the argument he's making is, well, when we're free from the European Union, we can build a better economy, a fairer economy for other parts of England, for instance, that are post-industrial that haven't been doing very well. The one word he never mentioned was the word Brexit because it's totally toxic.

MONTAGNE: So wondering, do many people in the U.K. share the prime minister's optimism?

LANGFITT: Well, you know, I mean, some Brexiteers do. Most economists absolutely don't. They think this is going to be bad, certainly in the short term and probably, even from their perspective, in the long term, for the U.K. economy. And also, many young people are very disappointed. They're not going to be able to live and work freely in Europe, which created great opportunities for them. There's a woman named Charlotte Reynolds. She's a university student here. She studies French, Spanish and German. And last night, she struck a totally different tone from the prime minister.

CHARLOTTE REYNOLDS: We just need to prepare ourselves for the worst, whatever that may be, I guess, because everything is all in the air at the moment, and it has been for the past three years. So it's just going to be more difficult and more stressful to kind of get around and be free in Europe as you were before.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Frank Langfitt speaking to us from London. Thanks very much.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Renee.

(SOUNDBITE OF DJ MITSU THE BEATS' "A LITTLE PIANO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.