Thousands of pro-Brexit supporters in central London erupted in cheers, sent balloons into the sky and sang “Rule Britannia”, as Britain left the European Union on Friday.
Men and women of all ages from around the country, many decked out in the red, white and blue colours of the Union Jack flag, hugged and kissed, while fireworks were set off into the night sky.
“Absolutely fantastic,” said Karen Ollerton, 65, from Wigan, in northwest England. “I wanted to be here tonight to see the celebrations. It was absolutely amazing.”
Some perched on the statue of Britain’s World War II leader Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, shouting “freedom” and “Brexit”, and letting off a flare that blazed red in the darkness.
Organiser Nigel Farage, the arch populist who has made a political career out of euroscepticism, described Brexit as “the greatest moment in the modern history of our great nation”.
“We can celebrate the fact that free from the constraints of the EU, we once again will be able to find our place in the world,” he told the crowd, to huge cheers.
“Westminster became detached from ordinary people. But those people started to rise. For the first time in history, the people have beaten the establishment. Democracy has won.”
He added: “What happens now marks the point of no return. Once we have left, we are never, ever going back… The war is over. We have won!”
Farage joined prominent “Brexiteers” including the boss of the Wetherspoons pub chain Tim Martin, and veteran politician Ann Widdecombe, who earlier left Brussels as a European lawmaker.
But ordinary Britons said they were sad that the country’s 47-year marriage to the EU ended in divorce.
“I’m just glad it’s done,” said Cory, 29, a blind man from southeast London, who listened to descriptions of the celebrations from others in the crowd.
“But it’s also sadness in a tiny part because the EU could have done more if they had been a little bit more in tune with member countries. It could have worked out.”
Recruitment firm managing director John Moss, from Southampton, on the English south coast, said he had “risked everything” to back Brexit, lost money and fallen out with some of his family.
But he was convinced it would happen in the end — and, like any split, hoped to stay friends.
“I’ve got a bottle of English sparkling wine for tonight and I’m going to enjoy it. But I won’t stop drinking German beer! They’re our friends and that will continue. We’re both free,” he said.
“They can now do their European project. My uncle won’t talk to me because of my beliefs. Now we all need to come together. It’s done.”