Of Backstops, Brextremists and BOBs: A glossary of Brexit terms

Henry Nicholls, REUTERS | Anti-Brexit protesters outside the Houses of Parliament in London, on December 10, 2018.

A contraction of British exit, "Brexit" has spawned a baffling array of words and acronyms commonly used when discussing the UK’s tortuous departure from the European Union. Here are some of the key terms and phrases.

  • Article 50

Part of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, Article 50 sets out the procedure for a country wishing to leave the bloc and imposes a two-year countdown to its departure. Britain triggered the process on March 29, 2017, meaning it will cease to be an EU member on March 29, 2019 – unless it seeks to extend the process.

While any extension would require the approval of the EU’s 27 other members, the UK can unilaterally decide to revoke Article 50 should it choose to abandon Brexit altogether.

Theresa May signs the letter officially invoking Article 50.
Theresa May signs the letter officially invoking Article 50. Christopher Furlong, AFP
  • Backstop

The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May’s government – and the main reason it has twice been shot down by parliament. Often referred to as the “Irish backstop” (somewhat unfairly, since Ireland didn’t create the problem in the first place), it is an insurance policy designed to ensure there are no physical barriers or checks on people or goods crossing the border between EU member The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK.

Intended as a temporary measure, the backstop keeps the UK inside the EU’s customs union until new trade arrangements are in place. But critics fear it could become permanent and threaten the integrity of the UK.

  • BOBs

The poisonous debate on Britain’s exit from the EU has left the country bitterly divided between “Leavers”, who backed Brexit in a 2016 referendum, and “Remainers”, who want to remain part of the bloc. But Brexit fatigue after almost three years of debating the same points over and over again means many Britons now identify as BOBs, for "Bored of Brexit".

  • Brexiters

Brexiters – also spelled Brexiteers – are supporters of Britain's exit from the EU. Those who prefer a “hard” or “no-deal” Brexit (see below) are sometimes pejoratively referred to as “Brextremists”.

  • Customs union & single market

The European Union customs union removes all tariffs and border checks on goods moving within the 28-nation bloc, and applies common tariffs on goods entering from the outside. The single market makes the bloc a common economic zone in which goods and services can move freely with no internal borders or barriers.

  • Hard, soft and no-deal Brexit

A hard Brexit would take Britain out of the EU's single market and customs union, meaning a return of trade tariffs, and also sever ties with the European Court of Justice. Supporters say it will enable Britain to forge its own trade deals around the world and give the country effective control over its borders and laws.

A soft Brexit would see the UK retain its close economic ties with the EU, including membership of the single market and customs union. It is championed by businesses alarmed at the prospect of a return to border tariffs.

Business leaders who don’t want a hard Brexit are terrified at the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, which would see the UK crash out of the bloc with no alternative arrangements in place. Analysts say this would cause economic chaos, and parliament has voted to rule it out – though that decision does not have legal force.

  • People’s Vote

With parliament deadlocked on Brexit, calls for a second referendum – or People’s Vote – have gained traction. Advocates of a second referendum say the public should be given another vote since Brexit has turned out very differently to what voters were promised in 2016. But opponents argue that another referendum would betray voters’ first choice and undermine faith in UK democracy.

  • Prorogue

Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament marked a sharp escalation of hostilities between the arch-Brexiter prime minister and rebel MPs aiming to stop a no-deal Brexit. A prorogation is the formal name given to the period between two sitting sessions, during which parliament is suspended. While parliament is routinely suspended for a brief period before each session, Johnson’s decision to prorogue for a critical five-week period before October 31 – the latest deadline for Britain to leave the EU – is seen as a bid to force through a no-deal Brexit.

An anti-Brexit campaigner outside the Houses of Parliament in London on December 11, 2018.
An anti-Brexit campaigner outside the Houses of Parliament in London on December 11, 2018. Oli Scarff, AFP
  • Remainers

Remainers are Britons who voted to stay in the European Union, as opposed to the “Leavers” who voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum. Brexiters often use the derogative term “Remoaners” to refer to opponents of Brexit.

  • Withdrawal agreement

After almost two years of grueling negotiations, May’s government and EU leaders produced a 585-page withdrawal agreement last November setting out the terms of the UK's departure from the bloc, coupled with a shorter, non-binding political declaration committing the two parties to close future ties.

The agreement must be approved by the British and European parliaments to take effect – and the former's lawmakers have already rejected it twice, by huge margins.

Hardline critics in May’s own Conservative Party have described her deal as BRINO, for “Brexit in name only”.

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