Hello, how are you? How’s the weather? Wait, there’s no time for chit chat. We have a lot of things to cover so let’s get straight down to it. This is a vocabulary episode about the language of Brexit. See below for all the vocabulary.

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In the last episode you heard a conversation about Brexit with my Dad and it’s very encouraging to see lots of responses and comments from LEPsters about that. There’s definitely more to talk about and I’d very much like to talk freely about this subject again.

But now I want to focus on language. This topic involves so many things. It’s not just specific to the UK and the EU. It is connected to many other big areas like economics, political science and immigration and there is a lot of meaty vocab involved. What do I mean by meaty vocab? Just items of vocabulary that are quite substantial in terms of their meaning but also the significance they carry. These are big words about big things, and are therefore important enough to look at in more detail.

So that’s what this is about – using the subject of Brexit as a case study for learning some vocabulary items relating to economics, politics, lawmaking, immigration and more.

Where do these words come from?
– University notes from this semester’s classes.
– Conversation with my Dad in the last episode.
– Articles I’ve been reading on The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Week, The Telegraph and The BBC.


One note about learning vocabulary – it’s good to remember that words always hang around with other words and it’s useful to be aware of which words go together. When you learn a noun for example, like the word ‘rhetoric’, you should learn which adjectives, verbs or prepositions usually go with it, and then learn words in groups – for example,  the word ‘rhetoric’ – do you do rhetoric, make rhetoric, or what? What are the most common adjectives with rhetoric? Is it ‘good’ rhetoric, or something else, like ‘colourful’ rhetoric or something? You start to realise that words on their own are no good to you – you can’t use words unless you learn all their collocates.

By the way, we ‘use, resort to or engage in’ rhetoric, and the adjectives are things like powerful, political, and even ‘empty’ rhetoric.

I have used a collocations dictionary in my planning, so listen out for collocations for the words I’m talking about in this episode.



referendum (pl. referendums / referenda) = a vote by the electorate on a single question. The result of the referendum dictates the outcome of a particular decision.
to call a referendum / to hold a referendum / to put something to a referendum
When is a referendum usually called? What kind of decision? What’s the difference between a referendum and an election?

sovereignty = the authority of a state to govern itself, supreme power, independence
have sovereignty / give up sovereignty / claim sovereignty / undermine sovereignty / a loss of sovereignty
adj = sovereign, e.g. a sovereign nation, sovereign debt
democratic / undemocratic / anti-democratic / democratic deficit
Is the EU undemocratic? It depends on how you feel about it. It depends on your ideological position. For example, most of the eurosceptics are neo-liberals who believe in the power of free-market economics. They generally don’t like regulation because they believe it goes against the natural process of market forces. They distrust the regulators, and appear to disregard the benefits or purpose of it.
Bureaucracy / bureaucrats / bureaucratic
What is the EU? europa.eu/about-eu/basic-information/about/index_en.htm Is the EU undemocratic? www.quora.com/In-what-ways-is-the-current-European-Union-undemocratic
It’s easy to be biased (unfairly prejudiced against something) depending on how you view the European project as a whole. There are always several ways to look at the EU – several points of view, and those points of view will involve different types of language. E.g. if you’re a Eurosceptic you’ll describe the EU with very negative language, whereas pro-EU people will use more positive language, even though they are essentially saying the same thing. This is political rhetoric – ways of talking about something in order to persuade people to think in a certain way. Using certain words will imply certain emotions and associations. E.g. Describing the movement of migrants into the UK as a “tidal wave” of immigration. It’s language designed to create fear and hatred. The Eurosceptics use all sorts of emotional and dramatic language to talk about the EU, but in my opinion it’s mainly just rhetoric, and the same things could be said in far less dramatic language.

E.g. “The EU is composed of faceless and unelected bureaucrats who undermine the sovereignty of the UK by imposing petty legislation which stifles British businesses and kills the spirit of this great nation that I love.”

Let’s break that down.

“Faceless bureaucrats” – ok they’re not faceless of course. This is not iRobot. They have faces. Don’t worry. They’re all human beings. The reason we don’t know their faces is because they’re not on the news all the time, because they don’t have to be. They’re not there to get our attention or sell themselves like other politicians. They’re there to do boring things like propose legislation which could be used to help the EU do the things it does – which are mostly boring but useful, like laws to protect the environment or something. Fair enough, they are bureaucrats. They are lawmakers. Not that exiting.

“Unelected” – ok fair enough the EU commissioners are not elected. But even the UK government has a lot of bureaucrats who aren’t elected. There are undemocratic elements to most democratic governments. The Queen, for example, is a very important part of our constitutional framework, but she’s not elected. She’s not even chosen by people who we elected. There’s absolutely nothing democratic about the monarchy, but the eurosceptics rarely talk about the undemocratic parts of the UK’s government. Again, fair enough – the Queen is not involved in creating legislation (except for some routine powers which aren’t really used) and the EU commission seems to be the driving force behind the creation of new laws, but the other EU institutions are made up of elected representatives, so it’s not completely undemocratic. Also, the member states all agreed to the terms of the EU when they signed the treaties, so it’s not like the whole arrangement has been forced on us. So, it may be true that some of the lawmakers in Brussels are not directly elected, but is that a good or bad thing? It’s debatable.

“The EU undermines sovereignty by imposing petty legislation.”

The project was set up to ensure social and economic stability for the benefit of all the member states, who willingly signed the treaties and agreed to give a certain amount of control to the project. That’s the point of the project. And the spirit in which it has been carried out has been one of peaceful cooperation for mutual benefit. It’s unfair to label the EU as some kind of evil empire.

There is a lot of legislation, and some of it seems a bit petty (for example the laws regulating the shape of vegetables) but generally the legislation from the EU is imposed for good reason – e.g. to protect the rights of workers, to ensure that products are safe, to make sure customers are not being ripped off, to standardise equipment and services between countries (making life far easier for exporters), to establish environmental legislation (for everyone’s good) for things like clean air and water, and to help the poorer or less developed regions of the EU (such as parts of Scotland Wales Northern Ireland and northern England). What’s wrong with that?

Also, the word ‘imposed’ sounds pejorative (negative). In fact the law is imposed, but we accept it. They’re not forcing us to accept these laws at gunpoint.

Then, finally the bit about “this great nation that I love” – that’s nationalistic rhetoric – because most people love their country, so if you bang on about how great the nation is, it’s likely to inspire people. If you’re seen to be doing things out of a love for the country, how can you be doing the wrong thing? As long as you love the country and you think Britain is great, that’s what matters right? E.g. “I think we should get out of the EU, putting hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk, causing years of uncertainty that could seriously affect our economy – because Britain is a great nation!” Well, it might not be so great if we leave the EU, which is our project too – not some foreign power. We are the EU as well, so it’s not a foreign invader.

Anyway, back to the language.


a manifesto = a public declaration of policy promises – political parties publish manifestos before elections. A manifesto contains a set of promises, such as “if we get into power we will raise the minimum wage”.
backbenchers = senior members of a political party who are not in cabinet positions but who have a lot of influence over the general direction of the party. They tend to sit on the back benches of the House of Commons.
rhetoric = persuasive language or persuasive speaking. E.g. political rhetoric – the language used by politicians to persuade people.
E.g. statements like:
“The EU looks like a burning building but there’s an exit door and I suggest on June 23, we take it” (Nigel Farage)
“This is a moment for Britain to be brave, to reach out – not to hug the skirts of nurse in Brussels and refer all decisions to someone else.” (Boris Johnson)


Eurosceptics / a sceptic / to be sceptical of something (in North American English it’s skeptic)
proponent / supporter of the EU
proponents / supporters of the leave campaign
those who are for or against
politicians / politics / political / policy
bureaucrats / bureaucracy / bureaucratic / red tape

Legal Details

a treaty / treaties = agreements between nations which are formally concluded and ratified
laws / legislation / controls / rules
regulations –
binding, must be directly applied as law
directives – set binding goals which must be achieved, but it’s up to the nation state to enact their own laws
to comply with regulations / to be subject to regulations
the Working Time Directive
to opt-out of something
to opt-into something
to get concessions / to make concessions

Economics / Finance

The budget = an annual estimate of revenue and spending (it’s basically a spending plan)
to contribute / to make contributions
EU spending (it goes mainly on creating economic and social cohesion in the region, which is the original plan, working together to create economic and social cohesion to prevent us all having a huge and messy fight again – another large area of spending is on sustainable development, environmental protection, agriculture and support for farmers)
net / gross
UK contributed £13bn
We received £4.5bn in spending
That’s net contribution of £8.5bn
It’s less than 0.5% GDP
It’s 7% of what we spent on the NHS
We spend waaaaay less on the EU budget than on the UK budget. We give far more money to our own administration every year. All the money goes towards good things! Certainly, the bureaucrats receive expenses and salaries, but so do any administrative staff in similar positions in member states. They could probably do with a pay cut, but it doesn’t mean the whole thing is f*cked, does it?
rebate (it would have been about 18bn but Thatcher negotiated a rebate)
currency fluctuation
*there are more financial terms, like risk, confidence, investment and so on, which I’ve put into the next category

Trade / Investment

free trade
trade agreements
a free trade block
goods, services and people
tariffs (tariffs are imposed on exports and imports)
the gateway to Europe
a tax haven
a safe haven


the workforce
the welfare state
the NHS
illegal immigrants
economic migrants
open door policy
intelligence networks
home-grown terrorism

  • Ptholome

    Hi, Luke, A lot of English teachers around the world are giving good pieces of advice about the best way to learn subconsciously vocabulary and grammar which is by reading books, easy books they say but I love the difficulty and I think that interesting books are better than the easier ones.
    But I think that much more than reading books, the best way to learn is transcribing your podcasts. Why? Obviously, because we need to listen to it again and again and again to produce the best text we can do. Also it force us to look up on the dictionary for the meaning of certain word we hear but we ignore they exist. and we learn the usual phrasal verbs you use, idioms or other expressions…

    Well, I would like to tell you that I loved a lot the argument against Brexitiers, brexiteers or Brexiters: How do you spell this damn word, Luke?

    The argument about immigrants: lazy, criminal, unskilled people “stealing our jobs” AND TELLING THEM THAT IT SAYS A LOT ABOUT THEMSELVES… How thos people can take their jobs if they are so bad… Incredible!

    When I was working in France I heard a lot times this argument which makes me study more and more to be able to show them that I was better than them but they don’t want to know that the immigrants are only human beings wanting and fighting for a better life. And we had mainly the jobs they didn’t want to take because the low wages, harder work, and also the bad treatment we used to suffer because we couldn’t speak and go anywhere until we learned the language and we were more skilled people. Also we had those jobs because there was 4% of unemployed people and there was not worker force enough in the country to ensure the grow of the Nation.

    Anyway, I agree 100% with you and your father’s point of view. The Brexitiers speak from the hate and the non respect towards other people who have not the chance we have. They have an egoistic and dry heart. They can not be happy at all.
    Thank you for this podcast because it teaches people English and the importance of the EU which is not only about money but about human beings…

    Well, I should continue transcribing the 352 episode which is near to be finished. See you Luke and thanks you and your father for what I learned listening to both of you.
    Big hug from Lyon, France. :)

  • Anna

    Thanks for this episode Luke. I have been living in the UK for over three years now. Brexit is very hot subject now. No offence to all British eurosceptics From what I have noticed to many of them just have no knowledge about the EU. By this I mean they don’t actually know which countries are members so I can hear opinions like ‘finally there will be no burkas on my street’ and such. This is sad that people who want to leave EU because they don’t want to be controlled by anyone are actually under control of many narrow minded populists because of the lack of knowledge. I think same as you about Boris Jonson. I think that his leave campaign is just a kind of plan B for Conservatives to win next election. Thanks again for the episode I enjoyed to listen to you. Please do some more episodes with infomal expressions if possible.

  • serge

    I Love UK very much, and each year vist for some buissenes or hobby stuff, I’m an architect designer. So if UK leave us we’ll have to change direction towards Italy, Milano I suppose…

  • Paquan

    Hi Luke, thank you and your father for the Brexit episodes. Great work! They’ve helped me understand a lot more about the situation now. As a non-British citizen though, I respect arguments of both Brexit and Bremian. It’s quite hard to choose either In or Out as there’re tons of information that I don’t know like the TTIP. My knowledge on the UK’s EU referendum is still limited.

    By the way, have you seen Brexit: The Movie yet? I think people in the film are a bit like scaremongers. It’s full of nationalist rhetoric. But the good thing is what they said shows suitable example to many words in this episode, so I’ve learnt bits of language from them as well.

    Thanks again for all your hard work. :)

  • Baxeico63

    Hi luke , thank you for your hard work and thanks for your father’s partecipation . He’s great ! I really appreciate his clear spoken english . What do you think about furure and regular appearances in your podcast ?

  • Nick

    Great Britain have the EU-Cake and eat the EU-Cake so what’s the problem with those people who don’t want to be in this perfect position.

  • Celia

    Hi Luke
    I Think there is a mistake in what you have said about the Council of Europe. Ir is not a EU institution… And different from the European Council…

  • Ptholome

    Thanks again for every episode you make and we enjoy.

    Yes, we are a group of LEPsters transcribing together and enjoying during the process because it is a way to pay yo back the effort you are doing for us so we do the same for you, and doing that we learn more and we improve also our listening. Another advantage of our group is that we are more motivated than people working on it alone. I couldn’t stand in the past doing more than 10 min so I gave up while now I am surprised about what we are doing.

    We are a group of 7 members, women and men: Leonid, Elena, Olga from Russia. Kostas from Ukraine, Ling from Taiwan, ptholome from Spain and our last and new member Michal from Poland… We have also Dima from Ukraine and Natali from Spain… we ask to the person in charge: Piotr for the link of the episode we want and we start working on it making chunks of 5 min each. but for the next chunks each one make as many as they want or can because we all have different duties and not the same free time. So we work without pressure, at our own pace and as much as we could. It is easier, encouraging, enjoyable and it boost our learning.

    I hope more people is going to continue collaborating with you and I want people think that they can donate money. money and time collaboration or only time transcribing your episodes.

    It is hard! Yes, it is. But after the first episodes we can understand much better and we do the job faster.

    But the main thing is to get involved with Luke and to show him that we are very motivated people who is the best thing a teacher can enjoy. To see how motivating is his job because how motivated we are.

    Bye mates

    ptholome@gmail.com for Ninjas wanting to become a ninja transcriber