This is what all the key Brexit terms actually mean

Brexit negotiations could start next week

Brexit is set to dominate both politics and the Press over the coming days, weeks, months and probably years.

Brexit negotiations were due to begin in Brussels on June 19 and despite the State Opening of Parliament being delayed until June 21, Brexit Secretary David Davis has said they will start “next week”.

The shape of Brexit – whether that’s hard or soft – is the subject of widespread debate again with Theresa May trying to rebuild her Government after her poor performance in the general election last week.

There’s talk of a softer approach given that the Prime Minister is now dependent on the Scottish Tories and the pro-Remain MPs within her ranks, as well as on the DUP, all of whom favour a softer Brexit.

That means that Britain’s future relationship with the EU, including access to the Single Market and membership of the Customs Union, is once more unclear.

To help you pick your way through the increasingly tangled Brexit story our colleagues at Walesonline have helped explained what the key terms mean.

Hard Brexit

Neither the Government nor the Opposition officially use the terms ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit, but practically everybody else does. The trouble is, neither has a precise meaning.

Hard Brexit is usually understood to mean the position taken by the Government before the election, and by some of the more hardline Leave campaigners.

In the Government’s case, it means insisting on the UK regaining control of immigration and withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), even at the cost of losing access to the Single Market and membership of the Customs Union (more on these below).

Read more: Students should not be allowed to vote in Plymouth, says Tory

The position taken by Theresa May (above) earlier this year that “no deal is better than a bad deal” is characteristic of the hard Brexit position. It implies that she would rather leave the EU without an agreement on trade rather than compromise on the key issues of immigration and jurisdiction.

Many people think this could lead to a severe economic shock as businesses are faced overnight with having to trade with the EU under WTO rules, which means tariffs on both imports and exports.

But some Brexiteers argue that the impact of new tariffs on exports would be mitigated by the fall in the value of the pound since last June’s referendum.

In any case, there are signs that the Government may now be preparing to abandon its hard Brexit position for a softer one.

Soft Brexit

Like hard Brexit there is no precise definition of this, but it’s usually understood as meaning trying to retain as many as possible of the benefits of EU membership, particularly access to the Single Market.

People who support a soft Brexit argue that it is worth compromising on other issues such as immigration in order to keep access to the Single Market and Customs Union, because the economic cost of leaving them would be too great.

It implies accepting freedom of movement, and possibly the jurisdiction of the ECJ on cross-border trade, as part of the deal.

The Government is talking now of putting the economy first in the talks, which implies moving from a hard to a soft Brexit position.

Single Market

The Single Market is the cornerstone of what the EU is all about. Under its rules people, goods, capital and services are allowed to move as freely as possible between the 28 member states.

Margaret Thatcher signed Britain up to the Single Market when she put her name to the Single European Act back in 1986. The idea was to boost economic growth by removing the remaining barriers to trade that still existed within the European Economic Community (EEC) that Britain joined in 1973.

The Single Market is Britain’s biggest trading partner, accounting for 45% of UK exports and 50% of imports. Membership of the Single Market allows British companies to trade across the 28 member states without restrictions, and Britons to live and work anywhere in the EU.

Remainers would like the UK to remain part of the Single Market, but this could only happen if we accepted freedom of movement and the all the regulations that come with membership.

So soft Brexiteers prefer to talk about access to the Single Market under a special arrangement such as that enjoyed by Norway or Switzerland. Both can trade freely with the EU, without tariffs, but have to accept freedom of movement and make some level of contribution to the EU budget.

Customs Union

The Customs Union is the arrangement under which goods can be traded within the EU without tariffs, while goods from outside the EU face a tariff wall that is common to all member states.

It’s different to the Single Market in that only covers trade in goods, not movement of people, capital or services. It dates back to 1958 and is what Britain signed up to when we joined the then EEC back in 1973.

Some soft Brexiteers suggest that, even if we don’t get access to the Single Market, we should at least seek to stay within the Customs Union. It would certainly be popular in Northern Ireland where the level of cross border trade with the Republic is huge.

But there are problems. We wouldn’t be free to negotiate our own trade deals with other countries around the world, which is one of the main benefits hard Brexiteers claim for Brexit.

In addition, the EU states worry that if we remain in the Customs Union after Brexit, British companies might get an unfair competitive advantage if the UK lowers regulatory standards. They’re talking about having some sort of oversight over British regulations.

Freedom of movement

Most commentators felt that concern over immigration was at the heart of the Leave vote in June 2016 – and Theresa May made regaining control of it the cornerstone of her position on Brexit.

Ending freedom of movement meant leaving the Single Market, and the Conservatives pledged to reduce net migration to tens of thousands per year in their 2017 election manifesto.

But following the election business groups have called for the needs of the economy to be taken into account, and it’s likely the new Government will relax its immigration target.

This could imply allowing some continued movement between the UK and EU member states, though falling short of the free movement allowed under the Single Market.

Transition arrangement

Whether the Government is aiming for a hard or soft Brexit, time is running out for what are bound to be complex and difficult negotiations. The Government has already lost three of the 24 months it had to negotiate a deal before the March 2019 deadline.

Many people think it will be impossible to conclude a deal in time – especially as the EU are insisting that the details of Britain’s departure are thrashed out before its future relationship with the union is discussed.

Consequently there is talk of transition arrangements for trade and other issues in the years immediately after 2019. In the absence of a new trade deal – which most people agree could take years to negotiate – this would at least avoid the ‘cliff edge’ that economists and business people fear as British companies suddenly find themselves outside the tariff wall of the Customs Union.

Divorce settlement

What the EU wants to discuss first is arrangements for its citizens who live in the UK, and settling Britain’s outstanding debts, which could amount to tens of billions of pounds.

Some hard Brexiteers say Britain shouldn’t pay a penny, but most politicians accept that the UK should honour any financial commitments it has already entered into, even if this means paying a contribution into the EU budget after we have left.

On citizens, there is a recognised need on both sides to settle the anxieties of EU citizens living here and Britons living in the EU , so it’s hoped that agreement will be relatively easy.

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