Britain and EU have a draft deal on Brexit, but its future is uncertain

Today's expression: Strike a deal
Explore more: Lesson #105
November 22, 2018:

Negotiators for Britain and the EU have reached a draft deal on the UK's exit. The deal has left few people happy in the UK, as both those who wanted to leave and those who wanted to stay in the EU found something not to like in the deal. Several members of the cabinet resigned, leading Prime Minister Theresa May fighting for the deal and her political future. Plus, learn the English phrase "strike a deal."

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There is finally a draft deal on Britain’s exit from the European Union—but whether it will be finalized is still anyone’s guess

British Prime Minister Theresa May presented a 500-page draft agreement on exiting the European Union to her cabinet last week. But almost nobody really likes it, and British politics have been thrown into turmoil.

Hi again, this is Jeff, and you are listening to Episode 105 of Plain English, the best podcast for learning English through current events. Today’s episode transcript can be found at PlainEnglish.com/105. But if you have not yet heard our previous episode on “Brexit,” or Britain’s exit from the European Union, I suggest you go back and listen to that one. We talked about that in Episode 80, back in late August. That transcript is available at PlainEnglish.com/80. Like always, our transcripts feature interactive translations from English to Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, French, and Italian. All for free at PlainEnglish.com

By the way, Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the United States. Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the US. Some people might have taken today off, but there are no days off for JR and me at Plain English—we are here for you every Monday and Thursday, holiday or not.

Before we get started on our main topic, I wanted to introduce you to a new partner of ours here at Plain English, MosaLingua. I’m really excited to be working with them because I’ve been using MosaLingua in Spanish for some time and I find it’s a great way to keep up with my practice just a few minutes at a time. MosaLingua is an online platform with a wide variety of English learning tools, including a great one on pronunciation. There are lots of ways to participate—and they are having a huge Black Friday promotion all this week. You can learn more about MosaLingua at PlainEnglish.com/learn.


Britain, EU strike a deal on ‘Brexit’

British politics have been thrown into turmoil, as Prime Minister Theresa May is fighting for the exit deal she negotiated with the European Union. The two sides have been working for over a year on negotiating the terms of Britain’s exit from EU, ever since Britain officially invoked Article 50, or the official mechanism that allows for a member state to break away. That started a two-year clock for official exit negotiations, which runs out this coming March 29, 2019.

With the deadline looming, Britain was under pressure to negotiate the terms of its exit. The pressure was primarily on the UK, since with no agreement, it would be just like any other country starting in March of next year—with no formal treaty arrangements with its largest neighbor, covering things like imports and exports, aviation, migration, and a host of other issues.

Since most people think an abrupt exit without any new treaty would be economic and political disaster, Prime Minister May was under pressure to get the best agreement possible. But was we talked about in Episode 80, there were really no good options. And indeed, the final treaty reflected one of the potential bad options.

Let’s start with the things Britain won in the negotiation. Arguably the most important issue between the UK and EU post-Brexit would be on migration, and here Britain got what it wanted: an end to the right of EU citizens to migrate to Britain. On that same topic, both British citizens in the EU and EU citizens already in Britain will be protected; they won’t have to go home after the deal. So call that a win for Britain. The EU has its own legal system, and Britain did not want to be subject to the European Court of Justice. On this matter, too, Britain appears to have won some of what it wanted. The ECJ will only have jurisdiction over trade matters in which Britain and the EU are involved together.

Britain also got a crucial win on the matter of Ireland. You may know that the Emerald Isle, as it’s called, the island, is actually comprised of the Republic of Ireland, which is its own country and part of the European Union, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. The two sides have been living peacefully side by side in recent decades, but the border was fraught with tension and violence in the past. Britain wanted to make sure there was not going to be a so-called “hard border” between the two parts of Ireland, since the two communities are accustomed to free movement of people and goods. Britain was successful in avoiding a hard international border being drawn between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

But the negotiators paid dearly for that. The price they paid also has to do with the Irish border. Under the terms of the deal, Britain would remain in a so-called customs union with the EU until the two sides can negotiate a trade agreement post-Brexit. In a customs union, both sides trade freely with one another, and impose the same tariffs on outside countries. It is a way to speed up and integrate trade between both sides. You might wonder what’s wrong with that—Britain gets to leave the EU but still trade freely with its big neighbor. The unfortunate thing for the people in Britain who wanted to leave is this: in the customs union, Britain won’t be able to sign independent trade deals with the United States, Canada, and other countries. That was a major reason they wanted to leave, and now that benefit won’t be available for at least the foreseeable future. What’s more, the EU attached conditions to the customs union. The primary condition is that Britain will still have to follow a host of EU rules related to trade, including labor policy, environmental policies, and the like. So Britain will have to follow all the trading rules of the EU, but as an outsider, it won’t have any say in what those rules are. And it won’t be able to strike a trade deal with other countries until there is a new trade deal with the EU. Trade agreements like this can take many years to negotiate.

The deal landed with a thud in Britain—that means, nobody really liked it. For the people who wanted Britain to stay in the EU, the Remainers, as they’re called, the deal confirmed their worst fears. Their country would suffer from leaving the EU with no discernible benefit. The whole thing would be an unnecessary fiasco. Supporters of Brexit, called Leavers; well, they are also furious. They say Britain is leaving the EU but will still have to follow all the EU rules—what kind of independence movement is that?

The majority of the British cabinet supported the deal, but a lot of cabinet ministers resigned in protest; they could not support this deal. Notably, the government’s own Brexit secretary resigned in protest. A unique feature of Brexit is that it is supported and opposed by members of both major parties. So, the Conservatives are split between Leavers and Remainers; the opposition Labour Party is also split between some Leavers and Remainers. That leaves the governing Conservatives in a bad position: they are leading the government, but their prime minister only has the support of half of her own party. The Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, strongly opposes the deal and thinks if he opposes it strongly enough, he can force a new election and perhaps become prime minister himself.

With this deal, Theresa May is fighting for her political life; there is a real chance she will be toppled by her own party. For the deal to be implemented, it needs to be ratified by all 28 members of the EU—that would be Britain, plus all the other 27 countries, each of which has its own politics to contend with. The vote in Britain will likely take place in mid-December.


There was one other part of this I wanted to talk about, but the episode was already running long, so I’ll save it for another day—but that’s the question about whether Britain should vote again. That’s a question that’s being floated around now—and it doesn’t have an easy answer. Maybe we’ll talk about that aspect of things in a future episode. By the way, thanks to Gabriel from Sao Paulo for suggesting this topic.

Okay so I mentioned MosaLingua before and I wanted to tell you a little more about them. They make online training programs in a wide variety of languages, including English and Spanish. I’ve been using some of the programs in Spanish, but I wanted to tell you a little more about their English programs as well. They have a great online platform for learning new words in a wide variety of situations. It’s fun, interactive, and addictive. You can experiment a little and find the right level for you. They also have a class just for pronunciation. Here’s what I like about this—and I’ve found this to be true in Spanish, too—the more confidence you have in pronouncing the words right, the better you actually speak. Now, don’t ask me why that’s true. Maybe it’s because if you don’t need to dedicate brainpower to the pronunciation, you can spend more time thinking about what all the right words are to say. But, they have a great course on pronunciation, too, and that one is just for English learners—I don’t think they have it in other languages.

So MosaLingua is running a promotion now, where you can get lifetime access to their computer-based programs, and the pronunciation course, and a bunch of other things, for just $99. They usually are a monthly subscription, so if you’re serious about expanding your vocabulary and improving pronunciation, and if you have a little bit of budget for it, then I really encourage you to check out MosaLingua. Like I said, I’ve been using it in Spanish for some time and have been learning a lot.

To learn more about MosaLingua, you can visit PlainEnglish.com/learn, and it will take you to the special lifetime offer. That offer is only good through Monday, November 26, so make sure to c heck out PlainEnglish.com/learn today to take advantage. I mean, MosaLingua will still be around after Monday, don’t worry if you’re listening to this late, but the offer for $99 for life—that’s a good offer—and that’s only available until Monday. Check it out, PlainEnglish.com/learn.

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Expression: Strike a deal