Does the government’s Brexit defeat mean a Norway-style deal?

It is marginally more likely than other options, but wouldn’t permit Brexiteers to realise their dreams of free trade deals or an end freedom of movement.


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There’s a cross-party group of MPs advocating an exit they’re calling “Norway Plus” or “Common Market 2.0”.

The idea is for the UK and EU to change the political declaration attached to the withdrawal agreement to declare the UK’s intention to enter the European Economic Area, and join what’s known as the EFTA pillar – the free trade area including Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Changes to the political declaration are deemed possible as it has no legal basis.

Supporters of a Norway-style Brexit say it could attract Brexiteer MPs’ support, as it involves leaving the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy, as well as the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. There is also technically an “emergency brake” on free movement you can pull in extreme circumstances.

The “plus” part would mean adding on a customs arrangement to ensure frictionless trade.

But this isn’t the amazing compromise it’s talked up to be. There is still an EFTA court the UK would be subject to, and the “emergency brake” in practice could not be readily used by the UK, and is anyway temporary – to date, only Lichtenstein has invoked the emergency brake, and the EU warned Switzerland it would be subject to other penalties if it invoked one. The UK could only implement a temporary brake on free movement in certain sectors or regions providing it could prove wages were being undercut by EEA migration – a situation for which there is very little evidence.

Under this arrangement, the UK would also be denied the freedom much-desired of Brexiteers to make its own trade deals – something that would count out support from senior Brexiteer and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and his faction.

Norway Plus, however, does have more traction than some other alternatives across parties. It’s helmed by the influential former minister Nick Boles, who was an ally of David Cameron and George Osborne and ran senior Brexiteer and Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s leadership campaign. It is also backed by Labour MPs Stephen Kinnock and Lucy Powell, and Tories Nicholas Soames and Rob Halfon, who represent different parts of their parties.

The EU too has been more sympathetic to this idea, with its chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier saying “the only frictionless option for the future with the UK would be ‘Norway Plus’”. Norway wouldn’t want the UK to enter if it were simply a temporary measure, but isn’t officially opposed to it joining.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

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