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The end of the beginning – Britain leaves the European Union

Today is Brexit day. After 47 years of membership, tonight (January 31) at 11pm, the UK will officially cease to be a member state of the European Union.

It’s been an uncomfortable journey getting to this point, after four years of intense debate in the country about how best to leave or whether to leave at all.

But after Boris Johnson’s decisive victory over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party last December, the UK’s future was all but confirmed.

In the month since that general election result, there has been a welcomed uplift in business confidence according to key indicators, despite the fears that many firms still have about what our future trading relationship with the EU might look like.

The uplift is largely down to the end of domestic political uncertainty, which has held back investment and economic growth over the last 12 months.

As we leave the EU tonight, the national conversation about our role and place in Europe will not end, but will take a new shape.

The transition period, which we enter tomorrow, will last until December 2020 at which point, we must have a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, as Mr Johnson has said he will not extend.

For the business community at large, today’s events are met with mixed feelings.

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “In our business communities, this historic moment will bring a mixture of regret for some and celebration for others – but this is just the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.

“Decisions made during the next phase of negotiations will influence the business environment for decades to come. Businesses are likely to face significant changes in the way they trade, both in Europe and across the world.

“The government must clearly communicate what those changes will be – and provide timely guidance and support to help firms adapt and make the most of new opportunities as Britain sets its own trading polices.

“Our business communities are pragmatic and want to move on from the emotional arguments around Brexit that have stymied confidence and investment for so long.

“They want to work with ministers to get the details right on issues like customs, regulation and immigration – and they are desperate to avoid more of the cliff-edges that have affected their operations in recent years.

“On the domestic front, spades in the ground for new infrastructure, better skills and training, and action to lower the up-front costs facing UK businesses are urgently needed to boost confidence and unlock investment.”

Allie Renison, head of Europe and trade policy at the Institute of Directors, added: “While the impact of leaving the EU with this deal varies by sector and exposure to the EU, many business leaders feel that the certainty and stability provided is limited given the prospect of changes at the end of the transition period mooted for this December.

“Some decisions that only require forward planning of up to a year can be made, but for investment cycles and business planning that require longer lead-in times, uncertainty and relocation to mitigate this carries on apace.

“In particular, lack of clarity around the scale of new costs and barriers to internal goods trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland rising from the current Brexit deal is forcing companies involved to spend time and money on additional contingencies sooner than others.”