Brexit: United Kingdom exits EU's orbit after 48 years

British people living in Brussels who oppose Brexit hold a candlelit vigil outside the British embassy as the transition period comes to an end in Brussels, Belgium December 31, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

LONDON (Reuters) - The United Kingdom left the European Union’s orbit on Thursday, turning its back on a tempestuous 48-year liaison with the European project for an uncertain post-Brexit future in its most significant geopolitical shift since the loss of empire.

At 2300 GMT, the Brexit transition period - which preserved de-facto EU membership after the UK formally left the EU on Jan. 31 - expired.

The United Kingdom joined the precursor to the EU on Jan. 1, 1973.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton