WORDS MATTER

The British government is finally ditching the word “Brexit”

Obsession
Language
Obsession
Language

At first the slogan was “Brexit means Brexit.” And nobody understood what that meant.

Then it was “a red, white, and blue Brexit.” And that made a little more sense, but not a whole lot. The colors represent the UK flag and signify a nationalistic stance. But confusingly, prime minister Theresa May used the term along with a rainbow of other equally befuddling and unexplained modifiers:

“I’m interested in all these terms that have been identified,” she told reporters. “Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, black Brexit, white Brexit, grey Brexit—and actually what we should be looking for is a red, white and blue Brexit.”

Now the British government seems to have dropped the b-word altogether in describing the process by which the UK will leave the European Union (EU). In his budget speech yesterday (Mar. 8), UK chancellor Philip Hammond did not use the word “Brexit” even once.

According to Politico:

The word “Brexit” was not used once—apparently out of fashion among ministers who have been told that it now polls badly. “A new partnership with Europe” is the new preferred phrase, according to a senior government official who has seen the “Brexit Narrative” handbook which instructs staff on how to speak about Britain’s exit from the bloc.

And, indeed, prime minister May’s Brexit speech to the UK parliament last month was titled, “The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union.”

Words matter, and May knows this better than many previous prime ministers. Her tactic to avoid answering questions is so unique that a psychologist who categorizes evasion techniques added a new category to describe May’s style.

The UK government is currently facing a backlash from Parliament. The upper house, the House of Lords, has sent back the government’s Brexit bill with amendments for another debate and vote to the lower house, the House of Commons. Without the bill passing both houses, May cannot begin the process of exiting the EU. Perhaps changing the narrative on Brexit is just what she needs for the next phase of the fight.

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