Brexit Jargon Buster

Glossary of terms used in relation to Brexit



31 October 2019

'The current date on which the UK's extended notice under Article 50 of the EU Treaty expires and on which the UK's membership of the EU will cease.

Article 50

Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union which was added by the Lisbon Treaty and which for the first time set out an express right and process for a Member State to withdraw from the EU, based on service of two years' notice of withdrawal.


An arrangement for avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland if there is no agreement on appropriate customs arrangements by 31st December 2020 (or by the end of any extended transitional period): in such a situation, the Withdrawal Agreement provides for a single customs territory between the EU and the whole of the UK, taking effect at the end of the transitional period, i.e. from the end of 2020 or from the end of any extension of the period.

There will be no tariffs or quotas applicable for goods traded between the UK and the EU and no need for traders to prove the origin of goods moving between the UK and the EU. Northern Ireland will be part of the same customs territory, but will be required to apply EU customs law in full (as set out in the EU Customs Code).

In addition, Northern Ireland will be required to comply with EU Single Market rules as regards the technical regulation of goods, agricultural and environmental production and regulation, State aid and other areas of North-South co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This back-stop can only be ended when both the UK and the EU agree that satisfactory arrangements are in place to avoid the need for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Council of Ministers

The main decision making body, together with the European Parliament, of the EU, comprising ministerial representatives of all of the EU Member States.

Court of Justice of the European Communities

The Court established under the EU Treaties to resolve disputes on EU law between Member States and the EU institutions and between individuals or undertakings and the EU institutions, by means of actions or appeals against acts of the EU institutions and referrals from the courts of Member States for an interpretative ruling on points of EU law. The Court comprises the full Court and also the General Court which is a court of first instance for actions or appeals against EU institutions (but which does not deal with referrals from national courts).

Customs Union

A type of preferential trade agreement between countries; the EU's Customs Union is an area comprising the EU Member States (and also Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man and Monaco) in which no tariffs are imposed internally on imports or exports and all member countries apply a common external tariff on goods imported from outside the Customs Union. Turkey, Andorra and San Marino have bilateral customs unions with the EU (in the case of Turkey and Andorra this excludes agricultural products).


The European Economic Area, set up in 1994, to extend the EU’s internal market to countries in the EFTA; EU legislation relating to the single market becomes part of the legislation of the EEA countries once they have agreed (through the EFTA Secretariat) to incorporate it.The EEA comprises the 28 EU countries and also three EFTA States, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, in an internal market governed by the EU single market rules. The EEA Agreement allows these three EFTA countries to participate in the EU’s single market.


The European Free Trade Association, an intergovernmental organisation working to promote free trade and economic integration for its member states. It was founded in 1960 by Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, and later joined by Finland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. However, currently there are only four EFTA countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, as the other members left at different times in order to join the EU.


The European Union, an economic and political union of 28 countries. It operates an internal (or single) market which allows free movement of goods, capital, services and people between member states; the EU member states are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

EU Withdrawal Act or (in full) the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018

The legislation which will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 with effect from the UK's withdrawal from the EU (or, if there is a Withdrawal Agreement, from the end of the transitional period); this legislation will also retain in UK domestic law the existing corpus of EU legislation which has not already been incorporated into domestic UK law, including in particular EU Regulations (which would otherwise no longer be effective when the UK ceases to be an EU member state and EU law no longer applies in the UK) and also statutory instruments adopted under the 1972 Act implementing EU directives (which statutory instruments would otherwise lapse on repeal of the 1972 Act) in order to ensure a functioning statute book following the UK's exit from the EU.

European Communities Act 1972

The primary UK legislation which gave legal effect in the UK to the EU Treaties and EU law and which ensures the supremacy of EU law in relation to domestic law in the UK.


The Euro area comprising the EU Member States (19 of the 28 EU Member States) which have adopted the Euro as their common currency and sole legal tender.

Four Freedoms

In the context of the EU, the freedoms of movement of goods, services, workers and capital between EU member states, without internal barriers (subject to limited exceptions), which arrangements have been extended under the EEA Agreement to cover also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Free Trade Agreement (FTA)

An international treaty or agreement (based on international law) to form a free-trade area between the cooperating states. FTAs, a form of trade pacts, typically liberalise the tariffs and duties that the participating countries impose on imports and exports between them and make reciprocal provisions on related matters such as rules of origin of goods, with the goal of reducing or eliminating trade barriers.


The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the main WTO agreement on goods.

Hard Brexit

A UK withdrawal from the EU without a transitional period of participation in the Single Market or Customs Union and without any continuing trading or relationship agreement with the EU (and with no continued membership of the Customs Union).

Lisbon Treaty

The Treaty of Lisbon between the EU Member States which amended the Treaty on European Union, including the insertion of Article 50 concerning a Member State's ability to withdraw from the EU.


The exercise of the right of a trader in the EU or EEA to conduct its business in another EU or EEA State based on its home-state authorisation, without requiring further authorisation in the host-state, based on the EU and EEA free movement rules.

Qualified Majority

The weighted voting system used for all but the most sensitive issues by the EU Council of Ministers, involving a 55% majority or (in some cases) 72% majority of Member States representing 65% of the EU population.

Single Market

The geographical market area established pursuant to the Single European Act, comprising all of the EU Member States and three additional member countries of the EEA, in which goods, services, workers and capital may circulate freely without internal barriers (subject to limited exceptions to cover certain essential requirements) and in accordance with the EU principle of home-state authorisation.

Soft Brexit

A UK withdrawal from the EU whereby the UK benefits from a transitional period of participation in the EU Single Market or the Customs Union and/or retains a continuing trading or relationship agreement with the EU.


The World Trade Organisation, a global, multilateral, inter-governmental agreement on trade in goods and certain services based mainly on the principles of national treatment and most favoured nation treatment. For more information about the WTO and the trading implications of a 'hard Brexit' please see Richard Eccles' article: Brexit: WTO and Future Trading Arrangements

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