Start of Brexit negotiations - Brussels
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A dictionary of Brexit gobbledygook

All the words you need to know to make sense of the Brexit negotiations

Brexit is on. The UK and the EU negotiators are going to spend the next two years sat in a room in Brussels trying to work out how the UK is going to leave the EU.

We’re still pretty much in the dark about what that deal might look like. Apparently they’re currently trying to iron out details like how many times they’re going to meet, and what order they’re going to discuss things in. Not the most thrilling stuff, but hey, baby steps.

But even though the complicated discussions haven't kicked off yet, we're sure they will soon: so we thought we'd put together a handy guide to the words and phrases you’re going to be hearing over and over (and over) again in the next few years. We'll update this as the negotiations go on (and on, and on...)

As always, if you hear anything you want explained and we haven't yet, tweet us, or drop us an email

Article 50

Article 50: “Voluntary withdrawal from the Union”. It’s just the rule in the treaty that ties the EU together (the Lisbon Treaty) that allows a country to leave. It was only written in 2007 – which means leaving the EU wasn’t even really a possibility until then. In other words, it’s never happened before, they didn’t even consider it would happen, and no-one knows how the rule will hold up.

Citizen’s rights

Ok, so this one’s kind of a bit more self-explanatory, but is going to play a big role in the negotiations. It’s all about what’s going to happen to EU citizens living in the UK (or UK citizens living in the EU). Can they stay? Can they travel? Can they work? Who knows... yet.

Customs union

The European Union is a customs union. This means that members of the EU trade freely with one another, and everything that gets imported from outside the EU into countries within the EU has the same price. Members of the customs union can't negotiate trade deals on their own.

Divorce Bill

This is the other kind of bill (how much it's all gonna cost). Some big numbers are being flung about on a potential charge for the UK – so far one suggestion is €75bn (£66bn) – to leave the EU. UK negotiators are unlikely to willingly accept such a big figure, but they have admitted that they do owe the EU something – a statement to parliament spoke about financial "obligations".


European Beaurocrats! Clever old British press. This is a word used to describe the civil servants and officials working for the EU who are likely to be involved in the discussions. Top tip: it’s normally used by people who don’t like them very much. If you see someone using it, it's fairly likely they're not the biggest EU fan.



Free Trade Deal

This is basically just a term being used to describe the deal that's going to allow trade between the EU and the UK, but how 'free' it is, we don't really know yet. 'Free' would basically mean no restrictions on what the two countries can trade with each other and how, and no extra charges for buying products from each other. But the EU is hesitant to make it too free, otherwise it undermines the whole point of being part of the EU in the first place. It could take years to work it out (read: it probably will).

Great Repeal Bill (the)

One to make your head hurt. This is another bit of law that basically means that all the thousands of EU laws that currently exist in the UK will just be automatically copied into UK law once it leaves, then the UK can start changing (or repealing) the ones it doesn’t like so much.

Hard Brexit

Hard, soft, poached, scrambled – how do you like your Brexit? Hard Brexit is the equivalent of breaking up with someone, deleting their number, blocking them on Facebook and never seeing them again. The UK would be on its own, outside of the 'single market' – in other words, no longer in a special agreement with other EU countries that makes trade and business easier – and negotiating one-on-one deals with each country to figure out how their relationship will work. This looked pretty likely for a while, but it now looks as though the UK government is straying towards a ‘softer’ Brexit – a let’s-still-be-friends kind of deal.

See also: soft Brexit, Cliff Edge

No deal AKA the Cliff Edge

Ah, the Cliff Edge. Fills you with confidence doesn’t it? It just sounds safe. So what’s it all about? What feels like a million years ago, just after the actual Brexit vote, the UK Prime Minister played hard ball. The UK wouldn’t be taking any sh*t from anyone, she said (not quite like that). She’d rather walk out with no deal on trade and the UK’s future relationship than one that’s bad for Britain. The thing is, the UK does already have a deal with the EU. Both are members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) which means there are basic rules that apply to trading with them, they're just not as beneficial to either side as EU membership. The cliff, we assume, is just about stepping off ‘the edge’ and leaving the EU without any certainty about what’s going to happen.

The main sticking points in the deal are likely to be around the trade agreement the UK has with the EU – it can import and export goods without paying charges, and UK businesses are pretty keen on keeping that arrangement. There’s been a bit of a change of heart on that one, and the prospect of no deal and that cliff edge now seems like it might be a bit worse than a bad one. They’re going for a good deal for everyone now, apparently.

See also: Soft Brexit, Hard Brexit


Northern Ireland border (the)

Northern Ireland’s been big news in the UK recently, and it’s probably going to stay that way. Ireland is split in two – the Republic of Ireland isn’t part of the UK but it is part of the EU and will stay part of the EU when the UK leaves, while Northern Ireland is part of the UK, and will leave. The border between the two countries is the UK’s only land border. At the moment, because both countries are part of the EU ,people and goods can travel across that border without any hassle – that’s a really important part of the relationship between the two countries, and for the people that live there. If there’s a hard Brexit and that ‘freedom of movement’ goes, no one really knows what would happen for Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Soft Brexit

Pretty unsurprisingly, this is the opposite of ‘Hard Brexit’. It’s a deal that would probably involve maintaining trade agreements, and keeping up a lot of the features of EU membership – traveling freely around the EU, for example.

See also: Hard Brexit, Strong and Special Partnership

Single market

A group of countries (e.g. countries in the EU) who can freely trade and do business with each other. 'Free trade' just means they don't add any extra charges to products bought from each other's countries. Now that Brexit has happened, the UK is out of the 'single market'... unless they manage to negotiate some way of staying in, but it doesn't look like they want to / will be allowed to.

Strong and special relationship

David Davies, the UK politician in charge of the negotiations, is getting all pally with his opposites on the EU’s side of the table. He’s saying that whatever happens, this will be the future of the relationship. Let’s still be friends, he’s saying, special friends. (ie – don’t f*ck us over, please...!)

Transitional arrangement

A temporary deal between the end of one deal and the start of another – or to stop the UK falling off that cliff if there isn’t really a deal after all. Basically it’ll be will be a set of arrangements that will bridge the gap when the Article 50 negotiations end and the UK leaves the EU and before any trade agreements start.

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