Brexit glossary



Brexit has had a large impact linguistically as it has politically. The portmanteau, originally coined in 2012 following the pattern of Grexit (‘a term for the potential withdrawal of Greece from the eurozone’) has now taken on a life of its own: with specific terms having popped up and used during the Brexit negotiations and in the papers reporting about them. With so many terms and acronyms being adopted as the UK government comes to terms with the outcome of the June 2016 EU referendum, the House of Commons Library published last November a glossary of commonly used Brexit related terms. Here is a snippet of some of the words added:


Acquis Communautaire

This French term refers to all the treaties, regulations and directives that are passed by the EU’s institutions that are incorporated by each member state into their legal system. This also applies to rulings made by the European Court of Justice.




This is the commitment that has been made by the UK and the EU in their joint report that if during the negotiations process no resolution is agreed upon in order to have a ‘soft border’ implemented between Ireland and Northern Ireland, full alignment will be kept by the UK ‘with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 agreement’.


Hard Brexit

If the UK leaves EU quickly, with the likelihood of a basic free trade agreement with the EU.


Soft Brexit

In this scenario, the UK swiftly leaves the EU but negotiations take place for the UK to remain part of the single market and customs union (but gives up rights over influencing single market rules).


Smooth Brexit

An ‘orderly, negotiated, prepared Brexit’.



Refers to a possible outcome in which the future relationship between the EU and the UK would not be clarified.




A term used by chief Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier, which relates to softening the EU proposal on the ‘backstop’ issue with the Northern Ireland border. According to Barnier, regulatory checks could take place within Great Britain, as opposed to implementing border controls on the Irish Sea.


Free trade agreement

A free trade agreement is a decision made between countries in order to reduce trade barriers, but they do not go as far as removing barriers to the Single Market.


No deal

This would be an outcome where the UK leaves the EU without a withdrawal agreement being made or without a framework for future relations.


Single market

An economic area within the EU where trade barriers have been removed for Member States. It is based on the principles of free movement of goods, capital, services and labour.


Withdrawal agreement

The legally binding agreement that outlines the terms and conditions applicable to the UK’s exit from the EU.



Written by Mairead Finlay – Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg). She has studied Translation at the University of Geneva and holds a BA in Politics and French from the University of Bristol.