Demonstrators lower a banner reading "Here to Stay, Here to Fight, Migrants In, Tories Out", in London, Friday, Jan. 31, 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/Alastair Grant)

The Latest: EU's blue flag down at UK mission in Brussels

January 31, 2020 - 12:00 pm

LONDON (AP) — The Latest on Britain's departure from the European Union:

4:50 p.m.

In a symbolic move, the EU’s blue flag has been taken down from the U.K.’s permanent representation in Brussels, which is close to the EU headquarters.

On the day high on symbolism, the U.K.’s Union Jack flag is set to be taken down from the EU Council and Parliament buildings later Friday.

After 47 years, Britain is leaving the EU on Friday night, becoming the first of the bloc's 28 nations to do so.


4:15 p.m.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said the European Union must now “look ahead and take the next step in our relationship” with Britain after the U.K. ends its 47-year membership in the bloc.

Lofven says “never before has a country left the EU, and I deeply regret that the UK is doing it now."

He said “we will continue to have close ties with the British — both from the Swedish side and the EU. It is important for our economy, for our security and for our common development in Europe.”

In neighboring Denmark, the Danish, Finnish, Swedish and French European Affairs ministers met Friday in Copenhagen and expressed their regret for Brexit while respecting the sovereign decision of the United Kingdom.

They vowed “to work towards a deep, comprehensive and balanced future relationship with the UK that ensures a level playing field.”


3:40 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says negotiations on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union won’t be easy and is vowing to help make the EU successful after Brexit.

Merkel said in a video message released by her office that Britain’s departure from the EU at 11:00 p.m. Friday “is a deep break for us all, the 27 European Union member states and for Germany."

She stressed that “Germany wants to remain a close partner and friend of Britain, because we are united by common values.”

Once Brexit takes effect, Britain enters a transition period in which it will negotiate the terms of a new relationship with the EU and its 27 remaining members. Merkel said she hopes a good long-term agreement emerges “as quickly as possible.”

Underlining the importance of continued EU unity, Merkel said “these negotiations will certainly not be easy” and stressed that much depends on how closely aligned Britain wants to stay with the bloc.

She said: “The European Union is going into these negotiations in good spirit but also representing its own interests, and Britain will do the same.”


2:35 p.m.

The head of Gibraltar’s government says the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union “will forever live in history as a very sad day.”

Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabien Picardo said the speck of British territory on Spain's southern tip is departing the EU on Friday night “with a heavy heart, with sadness.”

In the U.K.’s 2016 Brexit referendum, 96% of voters in Gibraltar supported remaining in the EU.

Gibraltar’s economy relies heavily on connections to the EU and Spain. About 15,000 people live in Spain and work in Gibraltar, most of them EU nationals. They make up about half of Gibraltar’s labor force.

A lot is also at stake for Spain, which exported 1.5 billion euros of goods to Gibraltar in 2018. Gibraltar was ceded to Britain in 1713 but Spain still claims sovereignty over it.

More than two dozen international online gambling companies operate out of Gibraltar, lured by its low taxes and unimpeded access to the EU's single market. The gambling companies account for around 25% of Gibraltar's economy.

Picardo plans to attend a brief midnight ceremony on the border with Spain, when the EU flag will be lowered and the British Commonwealth flag raised.

He said that during the ceremony the EU's anthem -- Beethoven's “Ode to Joy” will be played.


2:15 p.m.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan says he is “heartbroken” about Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union and wants to reassure European citizens living in the British capital they are valued friends and family members.

“I'm of the generation who has seen our European neighbors as friends and allies,” Khan told The Associated Press hours before Brexit becomes official Friday night.

“Previous generations looked upon them with suspicion," the mayor said. "And the key thing I'm determined to make sure happens is, going forward, we will carry on as a city being open-minded, out-looking, pluralistic and welcoming to our EU friends."

Khan has long argued that Britain would be better off remaining inside the EU. He said Friday he was proud that Londoners voted overwhelmingly in the 2016 Brexit referendum to keep the U.K. as an EU member.

Khan also rebuffed speculation that London would work to become a lightly regulated tax haven in the post-Brexit era.


2:00 p.m.

The European Union's parliament will have fewer lawmakers after the United Kingdom's departure from the bloc, 705 compared to 751.

The European Parliament says that 27 of the U.K.'s 73 seats have been redistributed among remaining member nations. The other 46 seats are being set aside in case new countries are admitted into the EU.

The United Kingdom is officially leaving the bloc late Friday, ending a 47-year commitment to EU institutions.

The European Parliament said the redistribution of seats takes into account the size of the population in each of the 27 remaining nations, "as well as the need for a minimum level of representation for European citizens in the smaller ones."'


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