Britain and Europe: How the papers changed

No 10 at exactly 23:00 GMT on Friday 31 January 2020 Image copyright AFP

As well as looking at how Saturday's newspapers are marking the UK's official departure from the EU late on Friday evening, we are also turning back the clock 47 years.

In January 1973, the UK formally joined the EU, then known as the EEC (European Economic Community), but in January 2020 it officially left - and almost all of Saturday's papers splash the story of Britain's exit.

"Rise and shine.... It's a glorious new Britain" declares the Daily Express, while the Guardian's masthead features a sad-looking bulldog under the caption, "missing you already".

Below a picture of Brexit supporters celebrating in Parliament Square, the Daily Telegraph reports that Boris Johnson is preparing to impose full customs and border checks on all European goods entering the UK.

It says the move is designed to "ramp up" the pressure on the EU ahead of forthcoming trade talks and marks a radical departure from pre-election no-deal planning that prioritised the smooth flow of goods from Europe.

"Make leave... not war" is the Sun's headline highlighting what it sees as the underlying message of the Prime Minister's video address to the nation on Friday night.

Image copyright Getty Images

The paper says that for many people "our independence - hard won and finally delivered - feels liberating and exhilarating. For others, this is a day to mourn", it says - and the paper issues a plea: "Now let's unite this kingdom".

The Daily Mail also expresses the hope that what it calls the "stale leave/remain arguments" are now dead and buried, while acknowledging that they may not be resting in peace just yet.

The Financial Times believes the end of Britain's "tumultuous" 47-year membership of the EU has dealt an unprecedented blow to the process of post-war integration on the continent.

Get news from the BBC in your inbox, each weekday morning

The i weekend's headline "What Next?" is a question many are asking, and indeed the Telegraph devotes an entire 12-page supplement to the subject. The paper warns that Brexit is far from finished and has hardly even begun.

As Britain wakes to a new era in its history, the FT warns Boris Johnson that it makes no sense to pursue a bare-bones trade deal with Britain's largest and nearest trading partner, the EU, in the hope of reaping benefits from a vaunted agreement with the US that may prove illusory.

The tone of coverage in 2020 is, for many papers, in stark contrast to how Fleet Street reported the UK's ascent to Europe on 1 January 1973.

"Europe, here we come!" proclaimed the front page of the Daily Mail on the morning of 1 January 1973, when the UK joined the European Economic Community. The paper, which had campaigned for membership, asserted that "Britain's best and brightest future is with Europe".

The Daily Telegraph reported that the move was "welcomed" in the capitals of EEC countries "as a first step towards a political union of Europe." It quoted Sir Christopher Soames, the UK's ambassador to France, calling for a "single [European] voice in world politics".

The Daily Mirror went further as it covered the moment Great Britain went into "Greater Europe". Its coverage speculated about the possibility - "one day, perhaps a long time from now" - of a "United States of Europe".

"Happy New Europe!" declared the Sun's front page. It criticised the Labour Party, which was in opposition at the time, for "clinging… to the pretence that history can be unmade" by "boycotting" the European Parliament. Its editorial argued that "changes that come in the long run will be mostly for the better".

The Daily Express front page read "We're in", and pointed out that the UK's entry was an understated affair, calling it a "straightforward formality without fanfare".

The Guardian, too, noted that the moment passed without "any special celebrations" and that most people saw it as "a matter of course". Then-Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath maintained an air of "hope and optimism", compared with opposition leader Harold Wilson's "head-shaking despair".

Mr Heath hailed an "exciting, prosperous era ahead" as Britain joined the EEC, the Times reported. He spoke of the "exciting prospect for improving the standard of living for the British", it added.