Foreign Office staff banned from saying ‘no-deal Brexit’ despite threat of UK leaving EU with no trade agreement

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Foreign Office staff have been banned from saying “no-deal Brexit” as Boris Johnson steps up his drive to convince the public the argument is over.    

A directive reads: “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”.

Staff were then told: “Do not use phrases such as ‘deal/no deal’.”

The instruction comes despite Australia lacking a trade deal with Brussels, which means a similar “trading relationship” will mean tariffs and other barriers. 


The rebranding is widely seen as softening up the public for the UK being forced onto vastly-inferior World Trade Organisation terms in 2021, with the threat of an economic slump.

Peter Ricketts, the former top civil servant at the Foreign Office, mocked the memo, tweeting: “We have been warned.”

It emerged at the weekend that a no-deal Brexit had been rebranded as an ‘Australia-style’ arrangement – and the prime minister then argued the word Brexit should no longer be used.

Foreign Office staff have also been told not to use other Brexit-related phrases including “implementation period” and “special partnership”, The Guardian revealed.

The opening sentence says: “Brexit is completed. So do not use the term ‘Brexit’ save as a historical event that took place on 31 January 2020.”

It then advises use ‘transition period’ not ‘implementation period’ – the latter being the phrase used by Theresa May, despite the lack of anything to implement.

Other words frowned upon include “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”.

The guidance adds: “If hyperbole is absolutely essential, only make reference to a deal “at least as good as [Canada’s deal with the EU]”.

With the passing of the withdrawal agreement – securing EU citizens’ rights and avoiding a hard border in Ireland, by shifting the customs border to the Irish Sea – two of the original threats from a no-deal have been averted.

However, the term must mostly understood to mean the risk of crashing out of the EU without a trade deal, where the threat remains.

Instead of ‘partnership, the memo instructs staff to “stick to the phrase ‘friendly cooperation between sovereign equals’.”

Some EU terms must also be avoided, the memo saying: “Use ‘subsidies’, not ‘state aid’” – with “level playing field” also outlawed.

It continues: “Stress that we accept the following EU claims: that a free trade agreement comes with ‘friction’. That we are able to negotiate directly only with the commission (and therefore that EU member states must persuade the commission if they need particular areas of cooperation to continue).”

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