American politics is divided and rancorous, but Americans living in Britain are witnessing something far worse — an astonishing collapse in national unity and politico-economic rationality. The referendum held in 2016 to ask the electorate whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union or leave was an abdication of governmental responsibility; and to the then-government’s shock and surprise, the result was a 52/48 in favor of a British exit from the E.U.: Brexit. But the politicians had no idea how to dismantle 45 years of regulatory and economic integration and separate the U.K. from its 27 E.U. partners; 30 months on, the disputes are worse than ever. The news is all chaos, anger, and altercation. American visitors over Christmas, like my friends Fritz and Marilyn (in London for their 25th anniversary), will have trouble understanding the newspapers without a brief glossary of recent coinages. I offer one here — a Brexicon.
(That portmanteau coinage, combining Brexit with lexicon, is my own. I was almost prepared to be proud of its novelty, but I’m a linguist, so I did a Google search for it first. I got 53,800 hits. I wasn’t surprised. There’s nothing new under the sun, as usual, but these days you can measure your unoriginality: Finding only a few tens of thousands of hits for a newly invented word is actually quite good going.)
backstop A kind of insurance policy written into the draft withdrawal agreement covering what happens at a future time if no trade deal has been negotiated so that the E.U. and U.K. are in danger of having to recognize a hard border between Eire and Northern Ireland. It keeps the U.K. inside a customs arrangement that would make it still subject to E.U. laws about import and export, infuriating Brexiteers, and keeps Northern Ireland more closely aligned with the E.U. than the rest of the U.K., infuriating the D.U.P.
Brexiteer Ardent crusader for Brexit; a Euroskeptic with attitude.
Brino Brexit In Name Only — an arrangement leaving Britain technically outside the E.U. but in practice still subject to its regulations, laws, and courts.
Brussels Belgium’s capital, and the E.U. Commission’s headquarters, hence by metonymy a name for the hated Eurocrats who boss Britain around.
Captain Mainwaring Vain but ineffectual commanding officer (played by the late Arthur Lowe) in a decades-old TV sitcom called Dad’s Army, featuring a ragtag platoon of volunteer misfits trying to guard the south coast of England during World War II. The leader of the ERG has been compared to Mainwaring because of the incompetence of his attempted coup against the Maybot.
cherry-picking Selective retention of benefits of membership without associated responsibilities and costs; strictly taboo for Brussels because of the four freedoms.
cliff-edge A cliff-edge or hard Brexit is one where E.U. membership just stops without any negotiated agreement about subsequent arrangements: a sudden catastrophic cessation of all benefits, regulations, agreements, procedures, permissions, and trade arrangements associated with E.U. membership.
DUP The Democratic Unionists, a party of Northern Ireland Protestants with a small delegation in the U.K. parliament. Since the inconclusive 2017 election, the Maybot can only govern through the courtesy of an agreement with them.
ERG The European Research Group, a club of Conservative Brexiteers specializing not in research but in agitating for a hard Brexit.
four freedoms The right of unrestricted movement of goods, services, capital, and people which is the defining principle of the E.U.
hard border An ordinary national border where you stop, show a passport, and undergo customs checks. It is crucial for the E.U. that there shouldn’t be one on the island of Ireland.
hard Brexit See cliff-edge.
Maybot A deprecative term referring to the prime minister, Theresa May, whose wooden delivery of lines like “Brexit means Brexit” struck voters as robotic and led to her losing her majority in the election she unwisely called in 2017.
Mogglodytes A term of abuse for the atavistic followers of Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the ERG. His sobriquet around the House of Commons is “the Honourable Member for the 18th century.”
no-deal An exit from the E.U. without any agreement about future policies on trade, travel, tariffs, regulations, or anything else. Interestingly, used not as a noun phrase, but as a noun; hence A no-deal would be disastrous, or We need a negotiated no-deal.
people’s vote A fantasized second referendum on the Remain/Leave issue, which remoaners seek (to the apoplectic fury of Brexiteers) because they claim Leave voters had no idea what they were voting for in 2016. (You’d think people might learn. Fighting a new referendum on the same divisive issue would only infuriate the losers and tempt the winners toward triumphalism. But in this dispute nobody learns and nobody compromises.)
remoaners People still complaining about Remain losing the 2016 referendum.