What is the difference between hard and soft Brexit? Is it only economic related affair or does it also pertain to trade and other sectors? Is it only the PM of the UK who decides whether it will be a hard or soft Brexit? Or does the House of Commons and the House of Lords vote on the terms?


2 Answers 2


A soft Brexit is one with the least change to the current situation. So, it would include becoming a member of the European Economic Area, like Norway. Whilst the UK would no longer be in the EU, there would still be freedom of movement, and compliance to many EU regulations would be required. EEA membership has been ruled out as an option but would represent the softest of 'soft' Brexit.

A hard Brexit is one where the UK disassociates itself completely from all EU institutions. There would be no payment of any sort of 'membership fee', and no agreement where the European Court of Justice is the arbiter.

Those in favour of a soft Brexit are intending to trade by aligning closely with the EU. Those in favour of a hard Brexit point out that the UK now has the power to negotiate its own trade deals, and that it's not in the interest of the EU to erect trade barriers between the EU and the UK (even though they would be a normal consequence of leaving the trade bloc).

The government will negotiate the deal with the European Commission; it's hard to see how it could be otherwise. Parliament has been promised a vote on the resulting agreement but the consequence of it rejecting the deal that has been agreed would be a no-deal Brexit, which would be hard by default.

  • 17
    By analogy with breakfast, hard and soft Brexits have been referred to as "Continental Brexit" and "Full English Brexit" respectively. :-) Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 8:56
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    Nobody in the EU is talking about “erecting” trade barriers though. The main problem is that the UK leaving the single market or otherwise diverging from current rules would automatically make trade more difficult.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 11:11
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    @Ulkoma: the UK hasn't signed the Schengen Treaty which abolishes (more precisely: standardizes) border controls. OTOH, some non-EU countries have signed the Treaty, such as Norway and Switzerland. Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 12:30
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    Sounds like EEA membership has been guaranteed now as today the EU has said that it will require the regulatory alignment and citizen's rights to be guaranteed in writing. As the only guaranteed way to do that is EEA membership, it appears that we decided to stay in.
    – user
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 12:59
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    @richardb It's also my position and that of just about any knowledgeable observer. But the point is that it's an unavoidable consequence of the UK leaving the EU and negotiating its own trade deals. It has nothing at all to do with anyone erecting barriers. The edit does not address this issue.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 15:24

While the accepted answer is on the face of it correct, there is a slightly different perspective occasionally presented in the media.

For some a hard Brexit is one where the UK is no longer part of the "single market" and "customs union". A soft Brexit is one where the UK belongs to one or other of those two entities (membership of which effectively retains the jurisdiction of the ECJ, freedom of movement of people, and/or the inability to negotiate free trade deals in your own right).

In fact the "single market" is really the EU's internal market, in which goods, services, capital and people can move more or less freely between all countries. (i.e without constraints or tariffs). In practical terms this isn't entirely true but it's close enough.

The "customs union" represents a common customs area in which imported goods from all external countries trading with EU member countries - excepting those with a negotiated free trade agreement - have a tariff or additional charge applied at the point of entry into the country.

While it may seem that tariffs are applied to damage external countries, in fact it is EU consumers who pay in higher priced goods. So food, clothing and footwear all attract tariffs; and imported vehicles attract tariffs of around 11%. These higher prices are paid by consumers to protect internal uncompetitive industries and by extension their employees.

  • "These higher prices are paid by consumers to protect internal uncompetitive industries". Yup all those uncompetitive industries should just employ child labor, preferably 16 hours a day for a pittance. Then get rid of environmental controls and all those European industries will finally be able to compete.
    – Voo
    Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 17:33
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    How does increasing the price of food, clothing and shelter reduce the likelihood of child labour in developing countries? Forcing third world producers to lower their prices to compete is far more likely to increase child labour.
    – br14
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 20:20

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