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Brexit definition

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Brexit is a shorthand term used to describe the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU) – it is a combination of ‘British’ and ‘exit’.

What is Brexit?

The word Brexit became popular during the 2016 referendum, which asked voters if the UK should remain a member of the EU or leave. The word was predominantly used by the leave campaign, who became known as ‘Brexiteers’, but it quickly entered the vocabulary of politicians from both sides of the debate, the media and the public.

After the referendum, in which the majority of voters opted to leave the EU, Brexit has continued to be used synonymously with both the referendum and the subsequent process of withdrawal. Variations of the term have been used to describe possible outcomes of trade negotiations: 

  • Hard Brexit. A hard Brexit would take Britain out of the single market and customs union, ending obligations to accept the free movement of people. It also covers the possibility of leaving with no deal whatsoever
  • Soft Brexit. A trade deal that would keep Britain in either the single market or customs union, or both 

For more information – including how Brexit could affect traders – visit our Brexit page

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