Politics

'Au revoir': EU waves farewell to Britain after 47 years of membership

Key Points
  • The U.K. voted in June 2016 to leave the EU.
  • After more than three years of tough negotiations between British and European officials, its departure from the EU is finally taking place Friday at 11 p.m. London time.
  • Seventy-three of its 751 members end their political careers in Brussels on Friday.
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BRUSSELS —The heart of the EU is waving goodbye to one of its most influential members, an unprecedented moment that many European lawmakers thought would never happen.

The U.K. voted in June 2016 to leave the EU. After more than three years of tough negotiations between British and European officials, its departure from the EU is finally taking place Friday at 11 p.m. London time. The overall feeling at the European Parliament, the EU's only directly-elected institution, is sadness. Seventy-three of its 751 members end their political careers in Brussels on Friday.

"Very emotional moment, sad moment, I would say in the history of Europe," Pedro Silva Pereira, a Portuguese lawmaker at the European Parliament, told CNBC Thursday. The U.K. has been a member of the EU for 47 years.

"For the Parliament, it is a big change," Danuta Maria Hubner, a Polish lawmaker, said given the departure of the 73 lawmakers. She told CNBC she hopes their ultimate legacy will be their "global mindset."

In stark contrast to the U.K. government, the EU has not prepared any events to celebrate Brexit on Friday. The soon-to-be 27 member union is already focused on the next chapter: putting together a trade deal with the U.K. by the end of the year. The U.K. and the EU agreed to implement a transition period after Brexit day, which is currently set to last until December.

The idea is to define their future relationship during this period. This means finding new arrangements to trade goods and to share security intelligence, among many other negotiating areas.

'Fish don't know borders'

One of the toughest discussions in the next 11 months will be regarding sea fishing.

"Fisheries is complicated because unfortunately, fish don't know borders," Sean O'Donoghue, founder of the European Fishing Alliance, a lobby group for European fishermen, told CNBC Thursday.

Fishing vessels registered in the EU have equal access to all waters across different European countries. This means that, for example, French fishermen can work in U.K. waters and vice versa.

Most catches come in the northeast Atlantic Ocean, where British waters play a crucial part. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the U.K. will take back control over its "spectacular maritime wealth," but the EU wants to keep some access.

"Our industry overall is … dependent on access to U.K. waters," O'Donoghue explained. He added that if there is no agreement on this issue "you are going to have chaos as well, I could envisage there would be blockades at ports and the hauling would become an absolute nightmare."

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The fishing industry represents a small part of the EU's economy, but it has strong political influence.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said that fishing will be treated "as an essential economic interest" for his country.

Speaking earlier this month, the EU's trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, suggested the EU could offer some concessions on financial services in return for access to U.K. waters.

"The negotiations are going to be very tough," Robert Rowland, a lawmaker for the Brexit Party, told CNBC.

Luisa Porritt, a British member of the European Parliament for the Liberal Democrats, said the next phase "will be very difficult" as it is "virtually unprecedented to get a deal done in 10 months."

Most trade deals signed with the EU take at least a few years to put together.

"Watch out ... because you are negotiating with 27 other countries, all of whom have become more united as a result of Brexit," Porritt said in a message to U.K. negotiators.

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