This sentence is odd to me:

Ms May's position that it is on London to find an approvable Brexit deal and not on Brussels, has been replaced by a new doctrine.

"it is on" / "not on" - is this a phrasal verb (meaning responsibility)? Could it be confused with the idiom "it's not on"

"approvable Brexit deal" sounds odd to me as well.

Do you think the sentence is OK or would you amend it?

  • I don't think on is appropriate in that sentence, although the meaning is perfectly clear and I don't think it could be confused with it's not on. I would change it. Approvable is less strange - ideally I would change that too, but you might end up with a fairly unwieldy sentence. – user339660 Aug 12 at 14:15
  • 2
    The sentence sounds okay to me as is, if not great. "On London" and "not on Brussels" are both fine. – nnnnnn Aug 12 at 15:00
  • Roughly: The European Union is not going to waste its time making up pretty doilies for the Brits. If the Brits want doilies, they'll have to make them themselves. The responsibility belongs to the Brits. It is on them. Perfectly acceptable usage and nicer than a simple "sod off". – Wayfaring Stranger Aug 12 at 21:56
  • “it“ is the burden of responsibility. – Anton Sherwood Aug 12 at 23:02

According to the online Cambridge Dictionary the idiom be on (someone) is “used when saying who is responsible for something.” It mainly occurs in informal USAmerican speech.

Take your best guess at what the number and costs should be – add 5% to be safe – and tell them that that's all they get for the year and it's on them to make it work. — Howard Tullman, The Perspiration Principles XI: You Get What You Work For, Not What You Wish For, 2015, 50.

After being selected by the New York Knicks with the 3rd overall pick in this year’s NBA draft, R.J. Barrett has a lot of new fans and critics alike. The rookie is going to receive a lot of attention in his first year in the league, and it’s on him to step up. — Zachary Bachar, “New York Nicks: Three Realistic Rookie Season Goals for R.J. Barrett,” Empire Writes Back, 10 Aug. 2019.

It's on you to create a brand people can care about. — John Michael Morgan, Brand Against the Machine, 2011.

Although the Cambridge Dictionary suggests a primarily American usage, the earliest examples I could find were from Australia. This likely has more to do with the nature of the search and the informality of the idiom — coupled with an inferior search engine at the Library of Congress newspaper archives — than a suggestion of provenance.

… I am going to say it is on her to prove that she was insane beyond reasonable doubt. — “Insanity and Divorce,” The Register (Adelaide, SA), 18 Apr. 1923.

It was a great reversal for Port, and although they can stand the defeat on the competition table, it is on them to continue in the winning way. — Illawarra Mercury (Wollongong, NSW), 12 July 1935.

In more formal language — and before the rise of the simpler idiom — what is on/upon a person or group was a limited number of nouns, such as onus, burden, obligation, duty, responsibility, or the adjective incumbent:

… and further, where such grave charges are made, the onus is not on those who have to answer them, but the onus is on those who make them, to support them, and until they are supported by evidence, so cogent as to call for an answer, individuals are not put in the peril of making an answer at all. — M. Hobart Seymour, The Talbot case : an authoritative and succinct account from 1839, London, 1851.

Although we do not wiſh to take a part in the diſpute reſpecting colonel Burr, farther than to repel inſinuations which we know to be groundleſs, we cannot refrain from ſaying generally, that much more was incumbent upon thoſse who made ſo heavy a charge againſt colonel Burr, and pledged themſselves to prove it by testimony, than merely to refer to gentlemen who it is pretended are acquainted with the facts. — Republican, & Petersburg Advertiser (VA), 21 Oct. 1802.

  • Thank you for answering my query, it just didn't sound like formal UK English and that is what I left out of my original question, was if it was OK in formal English. Thanks again – Праид Джуди Aug 14 at 14:02

I'd say the sentence is fine :-

"... it is on London to find..." -->

"... it is upon London to find..." -->

"... it is the responsibility upon London to find...".

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