‘Norway Plus’ could mean paying as much to EU as today

by Luke Lythgoe | 07.12.2018

The snake oil salespeople pushing “Norway Plus” on the theory that it will save us money aren’t being straight with the public. If the prime minister’s deal is voted down and we embrace this Brexit model, we could find ourselves paying as much to the EU as we do at the moment, but without a vote on how decisions are made.

“Norway Plus” would see us staying in the EU’s single market and customs union. The arrangement is described as “Norway Plus” because it is similar to Norway’s membership of the single market via EEA/EFTA – “plus” membership of the customs union.

Although Oslo does not pay directly into the EU budget, it does contribute to a compulsory instrument known as the EEA Financial Mechanism. This seeks to tackle social inequalities in the EU – mostly via grants to poorer countries inside the bloc.

Norway currently pays €391 million per year, plus some extra for access to various other EU instruments, according to a new paper from the People’s Vote campaign. This brings its net total to around €115 per person.

Meanwhile, the UK’s average annual net contribution to the EU budget is around €8 billion per year, once all EU money paid back to the UK government and private sector is taken into account, according to the latest EU figures. What’s more, the government counts roughly half billion of our EU contribution towards our foreign aid budget. All in, that’s also about €115 per person.

We wouldn’t save money under Norway Plus because we would be involved in pretty much the same EU programmes as we are now. Remember that the government says that post-Brexit it wants to participate in “science and innovation, youth, culture and education, overseas development and external action, defence capabilities, civil protection and space”. None of this is likely to change if we went for Norway Plus.

This is also pretty much the same list of programmes that Oslo participates in – suggesting again that we would end up with a similar bill. Indeed, given that our negotiating position would be weak and the EU would want to take away the “rebate” on our current membership fee that Margaret Thatcher famously negotiated, we could end up paying more.

The big difference, of course, is that we would have lost influence because we would no longer be sitting around the table taking the decisions. How can that be in the national interest? How could any patriot support that?

Edited by Hugo Dixon

5 Responses to “‘Norway Plus’ could mean paying as much to EU as today”

  • There are advantages and disadvantages with a Norway/EFTA type arrangement. The disadvantages are set out in Luke’s article above, although I think EFTA/EEA including the UK would be a completly different political animal than the existing EFTA/EEA bodies, with a much stronger political clout. On the financial payments into the budget that would be a matter for negotiation, which might be a reflection of how much the UK’s membership would be desired.
    I see the big advantages of the Norway option being; a) it would respect the Referendum result as Norway is obviously not an EU member, b) it would allow pretty much unfettered access for our goods and services industries into the EU market (May’s deal excludes services ca. 80% of our economy) and c) it would completly resolve the Citizens Rights issues and not rob future generations the right to move around and work in Europe.
    Still think the Peoples Vote is the better option, as the best deal we have is the current one in the EU, but if that’s not on offer, I wouldn’t turn my nose up for the Norway option.

  • Respecting a people’s vote is more logical than respecting an out of date referendum invalidated by cheating, with people up on criminal charges and which could well be declared void for this reason. Respecting the referendum as an unthinkingly repeated mantra needs to be challenged at every opportunity now.

  • The point about Norway plus is not that it is better than being in the E, since it obviously isn’t. But it is probably the least bad option if we have to leave, since it is the least different from staying in the EU. The fact that we’d have to pay as much as we do now is not an argument against it, since we’d also get more or less the same economic benefits that we get now, which vastly outweigh the payments (a point that was made far too little in the 2016 referendum campaign).

    If Norway plus became a serious option, then for Remainers the choice would be whether to back a compromise or to go for double or nothing. I’d be happy with a People’s Vote if the choice were between May’s deal and remaining, but it is very unlikely that that would be the choice offered, and if it were between no deal and remaining, the polls are not looking very encouraging. So perhaps it isn’t unreasonable to go for a few years of Norway plus until enough Leave voters have died off that we can vote to go back into the EU and get our influence back. We’d stand to lose a lot more if we had to go through a few years of no deal.

  • We need to understand the real reason Tory Brexiters advocate Norway or Norway plus.
    It’s a mix of delusion and cynicism.
    Article 50 imposes a 2 year time limit, after which if no deal is agreed you crash out.
    This time pressure gives an advantage to the EU.
    Tory Brexiters see Norway purely as a means of by-passing this.
    The deluded ones possibly think we’ll be able to create a new bespoke pillar of the EEA which is transitional between the kind of deal Norway has and the kind of deal Canada has, while the more cynical ones think it will buy more time to prepare for an eventual no deal exit.
    The EU won’t entertain it because they want closure, and if they did it would mean we, the British people, didn’t get closure, heralding (even more) years of arguing between Tory Brexiters and remainers over whether we are going to leave without a deal and their party if going to split.
    Enough of this nonsense. I favour a 2nd vote, but most of all I favour a choice which faces up to the reality of brexit, which is fully in or fully out.

  • Although I would much rather prefer to stay in the EU, I think the Norway-plus option is not bad at all as it would still respect the Leave vote, without going through the catastrophe of No Deal.

    In that respect, I agree with Alex Wilson and Timothy Gowers.