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  • Ellis Wyles

Brexit Jargon, Explained

Updated: Mar 26, 2022

As the clock struck midnight on 31st January, you might have been forgiven for thinking that Brexit had finally been concluded.

Unfortunately, this wasn't the case.

Indeed, the UK is currently in a transition period, meaning we have until 31st December 2020 to determine our future relationship with the European Union (EU).

This cheat sheet will break down some of the key terms surrounding Brexit.

Brexit jargon explained

No-deal Brexit

Given the lack of time to secure a free-trade deal, some are speculating that we could exit the transition period with no-deal.

In this scenario, the UK would trade with the EU based on World Trade Organization terms, meaning that tariffs (taxes on imports) would be set on trade and border checks would be imposed.

For example: if the UK wanted to sell cheese to France, France would have to pay more than they are now because of the new tariffs, increasing prices for supermarkets and therefore increasing prices for us, the consumers. The same would work on goods from France to the UK.

Non-tariff barriers such as product standards (e.g. how we want our chicken washed) and other forms of regulation would also need to be determined.

Want to know more? This BBC article is great in discussing what the implications might be.


'Canada-style' trade deal

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the UK is looking for a free trade agreement similar to the one which Canada has with the EU.

Canada’s free-trade agreement gets rid of most tariffs on goods traded between the EU and Canada. However, the agreement does not fully remove regulatory barriers, meaning border checks still apply.

Some Brexiteers support this type of deal due to the lack of obligations in return for EU market access, ensuring that the UK would have control over matters such as immigration.

However, a major stumbling block is that Canada’s deal does not cover services such as finance or marketing, which comprise 80% of the UK’s economy.

Want to know more? More detailed summaries can be found in this article by The Week.


The 'level playing field'

Although it has not been discussed much thus far, the level playing field will have an important role in any deal the UK secures with the EU.

A level playing field is a trade-policy term for a set of rules and standards that prevent businesses in one country from gaining a competitive advantage by undercutting another country.

What this means is that if the UK wants a trade deal that involves zero tariffs and zero quotas (i.e. no limit on goods traded) the EU will expect it to sign up to stricter rules than those set out in other recent EU trade agreements.

The EU is insistent on a level playing field being maintained over issues of workers’ rights, environmental protection, taxation and state aid. However, Boris Johnson insists on the UK’s right to diverge from EU rules when it wishes, remember the sovereignty argument? This is a crucial part of negotiations.

Want to know more? We recommend this BBC article.


Of course, these are not the only terms you may hear over the coming months.

The BBC website will certainly help keep you informed, breaking down technical jargon into layman’s terms.

The UK’s future relationship with the EU is currently being determined and it is important everyone knows what is going on. After all, it is our future being decided.

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