BRUSSELS (Reuters) - When the British flag was lowered on EU headquarters in Brussels on Friday afternoon to mark Brexit becoming the new reality, it was the end of a long and exhausting divorce.
For journalists who have covered three years of Brexit twists since Britain voted in a 2016 referendum to leave, it felt like closing off a longrunning repetitive cycle.
It all started with unexpected news, for us in Brussels at least.
A YouGov opinion poll released after polling stations closed in Britain on June 23, 2016 showed a narrow win for “Remain” and arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage conceded defeat.
In Brussels we went to bed, only to be roused a few hours later with the stunning news that - some 40 years after it joined - Britain had in fact voted to leave.
After the initial shock and confusion, the EU’s natural response kicked in: hold some meetings.
And there were thousands of them in the ensuing years to work out when and how a member actually leaves a club that so far had only dealt with admission requests.
Many were highly complex: on the divorce bill itself, expatriate rights, North Sea fishing quotas, space programs, the status of Gibraltar, sharing sensitive data and customs procedures and of course the tricky Irish border question.
We had to nurture multiple sources over years to break what was often market-moving news. Close collaboration with colleagues in London, where politicians were wrangling over what do about Brexit, was equally essential.
Drama was conveyed in British politicians’ sometimes fiery Brexit rhetoric, some memorable flourishes from officials such as EU negotiator Michel Barnier, all with a dusting of the dry texts that Brussels officials tend to produce.
An obscure Brexit lexicon evolved that needed explaining to readers - from the “pathway to a tunnel” to “avoiding the cliff edge”.
After Theresa May’s failure to get a Brexit deal approved by the British parliament doomed her premiership last year, it was Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s turn.
He secured a new deal with Brussels in October and armed with a decisive election win, got the agreement approved, paving the way for Britain’s departure on Friday. All done.
Not quite yet.
A status-quo transition period started on Saturday, giving the two sides until the end of this year to work out the details of their new relationship. So what comes now?
If the past few years serve as a guide, we shall get a few months of low-burning negotiations, followed by a crisis from late summer onwards.
So we are getting ready to cover quite a few more late-night talks.
Editing by Frances Kerry