A to Z of Brexit: Everything you need to know

Theresa May has pledged to invoke Article 50 by the end of March 2017, formally beginning the Brexit process.

Here is an A to Z of the key Brexit words you'll be hearing over the next year - and beyond.

  • Article 50

You’ve probably heard of it by now, but what exactly is Article 50 and how does it work? In short, it forms part of the Lisbon Treaty – signed by all members of the European Union (EU) in December 2007 – and sets out the rules or the process of a member state leaving the EU.

Paragraph two of Article 50 states: “A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention.”

It does not specify how a member state should formally notify the European Council – and given that the UK voted to leave the EU in June, it shouldn’t come as any great surprise to other EU leaders.

But Prime Minister Theresa May told the Conservative Party Conference in October that Article 50 would be triggered by the end of March 2017. And once that happens, the process of leaving is underway. A two-year negotiation period on Britain’s future relationship with the EU will then begin.

What is Article 50 and what does it mean for Britain

Forget Article 50 - you need to know about Article 127

  • Borders

What will happen to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland post Brexit? Because one thing is for sure, the latter will still be in the EU but the former out.

In August, the First and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster and Martin McGuiness, wrote to Mrs May to express their concerns about the impact Brexit will have on the country – with the threat of border checks between north and south chief among them.

There are concerns Brexit will lead to border checks in Ireland. Credit: UTV

The prime minister responded, saying the future of the border with Ireland is “of the highest priority” for Northern Ireland – and “an important priority for the UK as a whole”.

Mrs May added that she wants to see “the continuance of the free movement of people and goods” across the Irish border and “the maintenance of the Common Travel Area across the whole of the UK and Ireland, which has served us well.”

Whether the other remaining 27 EU leaders will be happy with that arrangement is another matter.

Protests against Brexit staged at border counties

  • Customs Union

A customs union is a form of trade agreement between two or more countries. Under Article 30 of the Lisbon Treaty, member states are prohibited from putting customs duties on imports and exports and “charges having equivalent effect”.

Members of the EU customs union are also prohibited from negotiating free trade deals with countries in the rest of the world.

Brexit Secretary David Davis speaking in the Commons.

If EU governments allowed custom union members free rein to negotiate their own bilateral trade deals with third-party countries, it would give those non-EU countries an invaluable backdoor route into the lucrative market.

A UK-China trade deal would allow China to swamp the EU with tariff-free goods (if Britain remained in the customs union post Brexit) and the EU would no longer have any power to negotiate its own trading relationship with China.

Theresa May has said she wants to remain part of a customs agreement with the remaining 27 EU states, but said she had an "open mind" over whether this would be through associate membership of the Customs Union or through some other arrangement.

  • Devolution

England (except London) voted to leave. Wales voted to leave. But Scotland voted to remain – as did Northern Ireland. Tricky.

It’s easy to see why the Scottish and Northern Irish governments want a say on Brexit negotiations, but ministers in Wales have made it clear they, too, want to be involved. And here’s why: Wales receives £245 million more from the European Union than it pays in, according to a study by Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre.

Wales receives more from EU funding than it pays in. Credit: PA

In October Theresa May revealed Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be included in Brexit talks, with the devolved nations offered a “direct line” to Brexit Secretary David Davis.

So everyone’s happy, then, right? Well, let’s see what kind of ‘deal’ Davis can strike with EU leaders. One thing is for sure, as May has repeatedly said, it will be ‘the best possible deal’. We just don’t know what that will be – and satisfying all the devolved nations is going to be difficult to say the least.

  • European Economic Area

The European Economic Area (EEA) provides for the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital in the EU's single market.

It includes all 28 members (27 post Brexit) and three countries which are not part of the EU: Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Such membership allows this trio of ‘semi-EU’ nations to be part of the EU’s single market (more on this below).

Switzerland, meanwhile, is neither an EU nor EEA member but is part of the single market - this means Swiss nationals have the same rights to live and work in the UK as other EEA nationals.

  • Free Trade Agreement (FTA)

Leave campaigner Boris Johnson spoke many times in the EU referendum campaign of Britain’s ability to strike new free trade agreements once we freed from EU rules prohibiting us to do so. So what exactly is a Free Trade Agreement, or FTA? In short, when two countries enter such agreement, trade barriers are removed.

A typical barrier is the tariff (tax, also known as a ‘duty’) applied to imports; a quota (limit) on the number of a certain type of good that can be imported is another.

Trade agreements usually work on a reciprocal basis. A measure undertaken by one country under the terms of the agreement will also apply to the other.

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What will happen to trade in post Brexit Britain? Credit: PA
  • Great Repeal Bill

On top of the announcement that Article 50 would be triggered by March 2017, Theresa May also revealed at the Conservative Party Conference in October the introduction of the ‘Great Repeal Bill’.

Its purpose? To repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, which gives EU law instant effect in the UK.

All EU regulations will then be converted into domestic law, meaning parliament can pick and choose which laws should be kept or revoked.

The Bill will mean rulings by the European Court of Justice will stop applying to the UK once legislation takes effect, but at the same time gives certainty to businesses and protection for workers’ rights that are part of EU law.

  • Hard (and soft) Brexit

Much like cheese and the tyres on Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, Brexit comes in a hard and soft form. Or so we are told.

The ‘hard’ option is favoured by the so-called ‘Brexiteers’ (Johnson, Fox, Gove), while those who campaigned to Remain prefer a ‘softer’ landing into the little-understood post-Brexit world.

So what does a ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexit mean in practice? The hard choice, it is generally accepted, is the more radical route, whereby Britain makes a full departure from EU membership, rather than leave but retain some of the benefits – which may need paying for.

What kind of Brexit is Theresa May pushing for? We'll learn more in 2017. Credit: PA

Such a hard withdrawal would involve things like giving up full access to the single market, having full access to border control and immigration and making independent trade deals.

A soft Brexit, on the other hand, means remaining as close as possible to the existing arrangements as an EU member state; Britain’s exports not being subject to border checks and accepting the ‘four freedoms’ – movements of goods, services, capital and people.

Which countries use the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’methods? Click here to find out.

  • Institutions

There are 14 EU institutions and four of them will play a significant role in Brexit negotiations.

They are: The European Council, the European Commission, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament.

Once Article 50 is triggered by the UK government, the European Council will publish guidelines for negotiations.

After an draft deal is agreed with the European Commission it will be put to the European Council for approval. It will then be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

The Council of the EU and the European Parliament can vote on the final deal. Credit: PA
  • Jean-Claude Juncker

The UK’s decision to leave the EU was a bitter blow for the EU, and particularly so for the European Commission’s president Jean-Claude Juncker.

Although he has stated his “regret” over the outcome of June’s EU referendum, Juncker has made clear he “respects” Britain’s choice and said relations between the EU and the UK “must remain on a friendly basis”.

But Britain’s exit, he said, must happen “as quickly as possible”.

  • Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol is a binding agreement to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the majority of countries across the globe.

The protocol, which is part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”.

The Kyoto Protocol is a binding agreement to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: PA

It was adopted in Kyoto, Japan in 1997 and came into force in 2005.

The UK has a seat at the UNFCCC, but because the EU possesses such wide-ranging powers over industrial and environmental policies it largely represents the EU member states in negotiations.

  • Lisbon Treaty

Signed on 13 December 2007 by all member states, the Lisbon Treaty was intended to reform the functioning of the EU following two waves of enlargement since 2004 which had increased the number of member states from 15 to 27 (Croatia later joined, making it 28).

The treaty, which didn’t come into force until December 2009, also gave more powers to the European Parliament by reducing the decision making power of the EU member states.

It also gave, for the first time, the legal rights for countries to withdraw from the EU and set out guidelines for a how a country would do so, through the now-familiar Article 50.

  • Migration

The failure of David Cameron’s government to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands was undoubtedly one the biggest thorns in the side of the Remain campaign’s argument.

The only way the country can possibly control migration, Leave campaigners argued, was to vote Leave.

But while it may be easier to do that following withdrawal from the EU, there are two reasons why leaving the EU might not lead to reduced immigration.

More people migrated to the UK from outside the EU last year than from within it. Credit: ITV News

Firstly, should the government wish to retain access to the single market then we could join Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein as members of the European Economic Area. However free movement applies to EEA members, as discussed above.

Secondly, it has also been argued that leaving the EU could see higher levels of non-EU migration, which would partly offset any reduction.

It depends on what the government chooses to do with immigration policy after leaving the EU.

There is also the smaller matter that the number of non-EU migrants coming to the UK is currently higher than those from the EU.

Finding the facts: EU membership and immigration

  • Nato

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) was set up after the Second World War as a military defence alliance.

It includes almost every EU country, along with the US and Canada, and is synonymous with Western military power and the preservation of peace.

At the Nato summit in Warsaw in July, the then prime minister David Cameron insisted Britain leaving the EU would not change Nato or diminish its strength.

  • Opt-outs

Opt-outs are where a country is legally permitted to avoid certain aspects of European integration.

The UK has, for example, opted-out of joining the Euro.

Unlike most other EU member states, the UK also chose to opt-out of the Schengen passport-free area because it hasn’t signed the Schengen agreement.

  • Passporting

This is a particular issue for financial service companies who fear they will no longer be able to do business across the EU after the UK leaves.

There are concerns for the UK's financial sector post Brexit. Credit: PA

'Passporting' allows companies to use London as a hub for operations across the single market, so they can continue to serve clients in EU countries without seeking out separate authorisation.

Many firms are worried that our withdrawal from the EU could put this business at risk.

UK banks 'planning overseas move'over Brexit fears

  • Qualified Majority Voting

Brought in on 1 November 2014, Qualified Majority Voting (QMC) was designed to speed up decision-making among EU member states.

A qualified majority needs 55% of member states (in practice, 16 out of 28), representing at least 65% of the EU population.

The procedure is also known as the ‘double majority’ rule.

  • Royal Prerogative

The government believes it should be able to use royal prerogative powers to trigger Brexit.

The Supreme Court will rule in January whether to overturn a High Court ruling that the government cannot invoke Article 50 without the approval of MPs.

The Supreme Court Brexit hearing in December.

The government’s case is that it used the royal prerogativeto take us into the EU more than 40 years ago, and so it has executive power – following the outcome of June’s in-out referendum – to take us out.

Five things we learned from the Supreme Court Brexit hearing

  • Single market

Embracing 500 million consumers and 21 million small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the EU single market was created through the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and paved the way for monetary union, i.e. the euro.

The European Commission’s main goal was to ensure the free movement of goods and exchange of services within the market, and to set high safety standards for consumers and the protection of the environment.

Four non-EU countries - Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland – are also part of the single market. However they negotiated a few opt-outs to protect certain economic sectors such as agriculture

Theresa May has said Britain will leave the European single market when it quits the European Union as it would require free movement of people and accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

  • Travel

Currently, British passport holders can travel throughout the 26-nation passport-free Schengen zone without having to apply for short-term visas.

However it was reported in September that Britons may require visas to travel across Europe once the UK leaves the EU.

Under EU law consumers now enjoy protection if their flight is cancelled or delayed.

How easy it will be for people to travel to and from the UK has yet to be established. Credit: PA

They also enjoy financial protection for package holidays, for example, if the travel company fails or if the consumer wants to cancel the holiday.

There is the possibility that fewer EU nationals will come to the UK depending on the nature of the post-Brexit deal.

All of these issues are certain to come up as Brexit negotiations formally get underway in 2017.

  • Unbrexit

Could the outcome of the referendum be reversed, perhaps with a second referendum on the ‘deal’ struck two years after Article 50 is triggered?

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has made no secret of the fact that he thinks the public should have a choice to reverse the result of the referendum if we “change our mind”.

Tony Blair says staying in the EU should still remain an option. Credit: PA

In the end, 461 MPs – including huge swathes who backed Remain – voted in December in support of Theresa May’s plans to trigger Article 50 by the end of March (as long as she publishes her Brexit plan first).

And MPs are very mindful of the unrest that would sweep the nation if Brexit didn’t happen, given that more than 17 million people voted for it in June.

The 89 MPs who voted against the government's Brexit timetable

  • Veto

A veto is a right held by participants in a decision-making structure to block a decision.

Voting in the EU’s councils (where member states are represented) used to operate on the basis of unanimity for all decisions, but following the introduction of QMC (see above) member states can only veto a handful of policy areas.

Member states can still veto a new member state joining the bloc, for example, as this requires unanimous approval.

  • World Trade Organisation

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) sets out the rules of trade between nations and currently boasts membership of more than 160 countries,

Established in 1995, it is a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements and a place for them to settle trade disputes.

Outside of the European Union, Britain could negotiate new trade deals with non-EU countries under WTO rules but would have less bargaining power than the EU

Ahead of the EU referendum, the head of the WTO, Roberto Azevedo, warned that negotiating new trade rules post Brexit could take the UK "decades”.

  • Xenophobia

In the wake of the vote for Britain to leave the European Union there was an increase in reported hate crimes relating to racism and xenophobia.

More than 3,000 hate crimes and incidents were reported to police forces in England and Wales in the second half of June 2016 - an increase of 42% for the same period the previous year.

In August, Arkadiusz Jozwik, who was Polish, was killed after he and a friend were set upon in a possible hate crime in Essex.

In response to the spike in hate crime, the government published a new "Action against hate" plan.

  • Yeast

Yeast?! Yes,it sounds strange but it's definitely true that due to a fall in the pound as the result of Brexit, Marmite, the yeast-based spread that you either love or hate, was among grocery brands caught up in a pricing dispute between Tesco and Unilever.

Unilever, supplier of many popular food, home and personal care products - was demanding the supermarket increase their prices by around 10 per cent.

Sales of the Marmite yeast extract reportedly soard by 61% during the Tesco price row Credit: PA

Luckily, after a stalemate which halted deliveries of products, including Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Marmite, Hellmann's Mayonnaise, to the supermarket, the dispute was resolved and a potential 'Marmageddon' was averted.

  • Zero Sum Game

When asked criticism that her Government is suffering from "muddled thinking" over Brexit, Theresa May insisted treating negotiations as a zero sum game, where one gains and also loses, is the wrong approach.

May said: "It's wrong to look at this as just a binary issue as to either you have control of immigration or you have a good trade deal."

Theresa May defended the government's approach to Brexit. Credit: PA

"Anybody who looks at this question of free movement and trade as a sort of zero sum game is approaching it in the wrong way.

"I'm ambitious for what we can get for the UK in terms of our relationship with the European Union because I also think that's going to be good for the European Union."