‘Do not use the word Brexit’ - Leaked memo reveals words banned under Downing Street rules

Pro-EU campaigners outside the Houses of Parliament ahead of Brexit day. Photograph: Dominic Lipinsk

Pro-EU campaigners outside the Houses of Parliament ahead of Brexit day. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

A leaked memo has confirmed that the word 'Brexit' has been banned by Downing Street, with a number of other words related to the UK's departure from the European Union.

The Guardian reports that the rules at least apply to the Foreign Office - which now replaces the Department for Exiting the European Union for key duties related to Brexit - with an email communication revealing the words that staff can and cannot use.

"Brexit is completed. So do not use the term 'Brexit', save as a historical event that took place on 31 January 2020," the email begins.

It continues: "On 31 December 2020 we will either leave the transition period with a Canada-style free trade agreement' or the '2019 deal' which will give us a trading relationship with the EU like Australia's."

It instructs civil servants to avoid phrases "such as deal/no deal", or the term "partnership" in relation to Europe. They say this is because the UK will be working alongside a number of other countries and regions.


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Staff are told: "Stick to the phrase 'friendly cooperation between sovereign equals'."

The email adds that staff should use 'subsidies' and not 'state aid' and to avoid terms like "level playing field".

MORE: PM denies banning word 'Brexit' - but says it's over so word is not needed

They are also instructed to avoid terms like "ambitious", "unique", "deep", "bespoke" or "anything else that can be taken to mean anything other than a typical free trade agreement of the Canada type".

"If hyperbole is absolutely essential, only make reference to a deal 'at least as good as [Canada's deal with the EU]'," staff are told.

Twitter reacted with concern to the instructions that civil servants had been sent.

"It sends shivers down my spine to think how Orwellian this is - the government is still pursuing a no-deal and yet no-one is allowed to mention it," said Paula Ferguson.

"Talking of right-wing authoritarian regimes, if we are no longer to use the word 'Brexit' how will we account for the next 10 months before Brexit is done? To what will the 'transition period' refer?" asked another.

"Choice and consistency of language matters in diplomatic comms, and right to use previously permitted words like Br**it and implem***ation per**d are probably not hills to die on," said former UK ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher. "But I'd hope the word (and mindset) 'partnership' can be salvaged?"

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