Brexit jargon-buster

Ross Bryant
Ross Bryant

Confused by Brexit? Fear not, you are not alone. Over the last two years a number of confusing words and acronyms have become commonplace.

This is your plain speaking and impartial guide to some key aspects in the Brexit saga.

The Customs Union

This simply refers to the group of EU countries and how they trade with each other, essentially a free trade area with no tariffs. It reduces the need for customs checks at borders with the aim of allowing frictionless trade of goods between EU member states.

The Single Market

Also known as the internal market, this was the fundamental aim of the EU. The idea is to apply universal standards on goods so that manufacturers can sell their products to all countries in the European Union, rather than only conforming their products to the regulations of their country of origin. Theoretically, this opens up the potential marketplace for products.

For example: A British producer of toasters wants to sell their product to Europeans. As a member state of the EU the product has already complied with EU safety regulations before going on sale in Britain. Thus, the product can be sold on the European Market immediately, safe in the knowledge that it complies with safety regulations in all member states. Disclaimer: Some manufactures claim that these regulations can also be a hindrance.

European Economic Area (EEA)

Also known as the ‘single market’ this refers to all twenty-eight EU countries that allows the free movement of goods, people and capital across their borders.

Article 50

The official mechanism for exiting the EU. Triggered by the government in October 2016, this gives any member state two years from the time of triggering to negotiate new trade terms. The two-year period comes to an end in March 2019.


At Lancaster House the deal known as the Chequers plan was agreed as the blueprint for Britain’s negotiating position with the EU moving forward. The plan called for a ‘common rule book’ to ensure the free trade of goods with the EU, a move that saw Cabinet resignations.

The Common Rule Book

The rule book has the aim of harmonising trade laws with the customs union after Brexit. Part of the Chequers plan was to keep UK goods in line with EU rules. Some non-EU member states such as Norway adhere to the rulebook without being full EU members. The government claims that this will still allow the UK to negotiate trade deals with countries outside the EU, however this is disputed by some Brexiteers.

Hard/Soft Brexit

These terms are open to interpretation and have been subject to much debate. Broadly speaking, a hard Brexit would mean leaving the EU without a deal. A soft Brexit would involve the UK staying in the single market and implementing a deal that would offer the least amount of impediment to dealing with the EU as a trading partner.

The Backstop

One of the main areas of disagreement has been how the Northern Irish border will operate after Brexit. Think of the backstop as an insurance policy, one that will only come into place if the UK fails to reach an agreement on goods crossing the land border in Northern Ireland. This would prevent the resurrection of a hard border between Northern and the Republic of Ireland, which given the historic instability, is in the interest of all parties. However, critics have highlighted that if the backstop were to be implemented, it would keep the UK locked into European trade terms.

World Trade Organization (WTO)

Essentially, this is the default mode for international trade law. The WTO is the global organisation dealing with trade between nations. Agreements are in place for the vast majority of countries in the world. Should the House of Commons reject Theresa May’s deal and no other deal be agreed between now and March, then the UK will revert to WTO rules, also known as No-Deal.

European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)

As an EU member state the Court has jurisdiction over the UK, meaning the court can override the British Government. Infamous cases include that of Abu Hamza – the hook handed radical cleric who was blocked from deportation by the British Government; it was deemed a breach of his human rights by the court.

European Court of Justice (ECJ)

This court applies to institutions within the European Union, with the aim of ensuring that member states are complying with EU law. It can be consulted on EU law at the request of national courts in Britain and other EU countries. It can also be used as a mechanism for member states to challenge EU law.

The Great Repeal Bill

This is an act of Parliament that will ensure that all EU law to date is integrated with British law, preventing any legal voids upon Britain’s exit from the European Union.

The European Free Trade Association (EFTA)

This trade block has only four member states: Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. These countries enjoy access to the single market and are part of the European Economic Area (EEA).

The difference is that these countries (through EFTA) have free trade deals with a number of non-EU countries such as Canada and Mexico. A deal similar to this has been earmarked by Brexiteers, known as a ‘Norway style deal’.

Norway and the other members do have to accept some EU rules but reconcile that with having no voice in the European Parliament to influence policy, some of which they must adhere to.

Canada Plus or Super Canada

After seven years of negotiations Canada struck a free trade deal with the EU known as CETA. Canada has almost full access to the single market but without having to contribute to the EU budget or follow EU laws.

Some Brexiteer’s have proposed what they call a ‘Canada plus’ deal, a deal similar to what Canada enjoys but with increased access to European markets for Britain’s financial sector.

The prospect of a Canada Plus style deal has so far been rejected by the EU.

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