Brexit: Brussels lights up its main square in Union Jack colours to say goodbye to Britain

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The City of Brussels has laid on a festival of Britishness to say goodbye to the UK, ahead of Brexit.

The Belgian capital’s beautiful central square, the Grand Place, was lit up in Union Jack colours while bands played British music.

City authorities rented a real-life black London taxi, and also dressed two city employees up as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson to pose for selfies with visitors.

Busby-hatted redcoats were posted by the entrance of the city hall, while revellers posed for photographs with a replica red telephone box.

Banners around the square proclaimed: “Brussels Calling: Come together, right now.”

People queued while others took photos with a genuine red telephone box (Jon Stone for The Independent)

When The Independent approached the Sherlock Holmes lookalike and asked what he was doing in the city, the fictional detective said: “We’re doing a really important investigation… looking for the best French fries in Brussels.” The question of which friterie serves the best chips in the city is a running joke in Brussels.

Just around the corner from the Grand Place, which the city reasonably describes as “the most beautiful square in the world,” an unusual tourist attraction was also getting into the spirit of things.

The square featured several versions of the British red phone box (Jon Stone for The Independent)

The Manneken Pis, a small statue of a young boy urinating into a fountain which serves as an emblem of the city’s old centre, was dressed up in a costume of John Bull.

The costume is of historic significance as it was gifted to the city in 1972, ahead of the UK’s entry into the common market. John Bull is an old personification of Britain wearing a top hat and a waistcoat.

“At this historic moment for the United Kingdom, the City of Brussels recalls the long friendship between the people of Brussels and the British,” the city government said in a statement.

Mock redcoats stood guard outside the city hall (Jon Stone for The Independent)

Brussels’ mayor Philippe Close jauntily urged Brits to “keep calm and stay welcome” in his city.”Whatever happens, the thousands of Britons who live in Bruxelles remain Brussels residents!” he said.

Britain’s ambassador to Belgium, Martin Shearman, who met with the mayor at the city hall, said: “After many conversations with Brits in Belgium, I know how much they feel at home here.

“In their name, I would like to thank you Phillipe Close, and thank the City of Brussels for the warm welcome, not just tonight but every day.”

The city’s public transport authority also got in on the action. STIB/MIVB posted a video to social media lighting the stations and stops on the city’s metro and tram network named after British places and people.

Places celebrated included a tram interchange named after Winston Churchill, the metro station named after General Montgomery, and a tram stop named for Charles Darwin.

Other stops on the network with British links incude Liverpool, Lancaster, and Engeland – which is Dutch for England.

“Mind the gap when leaving,” the authority said.

After the end of the Brexit transition period British people will lose the automatic right to live in Belgium and will have to apply for work visas, because Britain has chosen to end the free movement system.

British people already living in Belgium at the point of exit will be able to continue working there, while holidaymakers may have to fill in extra paperwork from 2021 onwards.

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