Brexit finally arrives Friday: A momentous yet quiet moment

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly session of Prime Ministers Questions in Parliament in London, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. Britain officially leaves the European Union on Friday after a debilitating political period that has bitterly divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

BRUSSELS – Friday will mark a truly historic moment, but almost nothing will happen.

A few Union Jack flags will be lowered from European Union buildings in Brussels, more will be waved in jubilation by Brexiteers in London at the moment of Britain's departure — at 11 p.m. in the U.K., midnight in much of the EU (2300 GMT).

But for most of the half a billion people in Britain and the bloc, it will be a normal Friday night.

Britain and the bloc fought tooth and nail for the best part of four years — with insults flying across the English Channel — over the terms of their divorce. Now, on the eve of one of the most significant events in European Union history, the political eruptions have ceased and an uneasy quiet reigns: the calm before the next storm.

Both sides are spent and drained from the Brexit fight, and neither has much appetite for an extravaganza to mark the occasion.

The EU would prefer the night to pass without anyone noticing. After all, it is losing one of its biggest members, a diplomatic, military and economic power on a par with Germany and France. The U.K. is the first nation ever to turn its back on the EU in the 62-year history of this experiment in political union.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke this week of “the agony of parting.”

“We will always love you and we will never be far,” she said at the last session of the European Parliament with British participation.