A new era has begun for the United Kingdom after it completed its formal separation from the European Union.

The UK stopped following EU rules at 23:00 GMT, as replacement arrangements for travel, trade, immigration and security co-operation came into force.

Boris Johnson said the UK had “freedom in our hands” and the ability to do things “differently and better” now the long Brexit process was over.

The first lorries arriving at the border entered the UK without delay.

UK ministers have warned there will be some disruption in the coming days and weeks, as new rules bed in and British firms trading with the continent come to terms with the changes.

But officials have insisted new border systems are “ready to go”. 

As the first customs checks were completed after midnight, Eurotunnel spokesman John Keefe said: “It all went fine, everything’s running just as it was before 11pm. It’s very, very quiet, there are very few trucks around, as we predicted.”

The first ferry from Holyhead in Wales arrived in Dublin Port at 05:55 GMT with about a dozen lorries on board, all of which cleared customs checks for the first time without delays.

The UK officially left the 27-member political and economic bloc on 31 January, three and half years after the UK public voted to leave in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

But it has stuck to the EU’s trading rules for the past 11 months while the two sides negotiated their future economic partnership.

The first lorry, driven by Slavi Ivanov Shumeykov, loads onto Le Shuttle at the Eurotunnel in Folkestone, Kent, after the UK leaves the single market and customs union, and transitional trading arrangements expired at 11pm UK time
image captionThe first lorry loads onto the Eurotunnel shuttle after the UK left the single market and customs union

After trade talks went down to the wire, a landmark treaty was finally agreed on Christmas Eve. It became law in the UK on Wednesday after it was approved by Parliament.

Under the new arrangements, UK manufacturers will have tariff-free access to the EU’s internal market, meaning there will be no import taxes on goods crossing between Britain and the continent.

But it does mean more paperwork for businesses and people travelling to EU countries while there is still uncertainty about what it will happen to banking and services, which are a major part of the UK economy.

The UK and Spain have also reached an agreement meaning the border between Gibraltar and Spain will remain open.

Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s chief minister, said the deal still needed to be formalised in a treaty between the UK and EU.

But by abolishing controls between Gibraltar and the EU’s passport-free Schengen area, he said it would prevent queues at the border “which make people’s lives a misery and make business difficult in the region”.

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Analysis box by Jessica Parker, political correspondent

It is a moment that some will regard with huge optimism, others with deep regret. 

And while this historic move happens at a moment in time, the impact, in some areas, may be less instant or obvious than others – for example, it’s expected there’ll be relatively little traffic at Dover on the first day of 2021 as new border checks kick in. 

Nevertheless, significant changes are here – whether on trade, travel, security or immigration. 

And while coronavirus continues – for now – to shut down much of society those changes could well become more apparent in the months ahead. 

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Mr Johnson – who was a key figure in the Leave campaign during the 2016 referendum and who took the UK out of the EU in January six months after becoming prime minister – said it was an “amazing moment” for the UK.

In his New Year message, the PM said the UK was now “free to do things differently, and if necessary better, than our friends in the EU”.https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.36.7/iframe.htmlmedia captionLaura Kuenssberg challenges Boris Johnson on Brexit and vaccines

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he added that the combination of the Brexit deal and rollout of the Oxford vaccine means “we are creating the potential trampoline for the national bounceback”.

Lord Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, tweeted that Britain had become a “fully independent country again” while veteran Conservative MP Sir Bill Cash said the outcome was a “victory for sovereignty and democracy”. https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=BBCWorld&dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-2&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1344780770158792704&lang=en-gb&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.com%2Fnews%2Fuk-politics-55502781&siteScreenName=BBCWorld&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=550pxThe BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

But opponents of Brexit maintain the country will be worse off than it was while in the EU.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, whose ambition it is to take an independent Scotland back into the EU, tweeted: “Scotland will be back soon, Europe. Keep the light on.”https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=BBCWorld&dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-3&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1344780841445154817&lang=en-gb&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.com%2Fnews%2Fuk-politics-55502781&siteScreenName=BBCWorld&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=550pxThe BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said it was “not something to celebrate” and the UK’s relationship with Ireland will be different from now on, but “we wish them well”.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the UK remained a “friend and ally”.

But he added that the choice to leave Europe was “the child of European malaise and many lies and false promises”.

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Analysis box by Katya Adler, Europe editor

In Brussels, there is a sense of relief the Brexit process is over, but there is regret still at Brexit itself.

Basically, the European Union thinks that Brexit makes it – the EU – and the UK weaker.

But they think this is less bye-bye Britain and more au revoir, because there are so many loose ends between the two sides. 

The two sides still need to talk about the practicalities. We still have to find out what access Brussels is going to give to UK financial services to the single market, there’s that cooperation on climate change, and in this new trade deal there is a renewal clause every five years. 

For all of those reasons and more, the EU thinks this is not an end to its conversation with the UK for the foreseeable future.

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