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Analysis

‘Norway’ Brexit rebrand is ‘Back to the Future’ fantasy

by Nick Kent | 07.01.2019

Common Market 2.0” is a rebrand of the failed Norway option that has been rejected countless times. It would mean MPs backing May’s deal and agreeing that we should be bound by the EU’s single market rules without having any say over them. It won’t be accepted by either Brexiters or patriotic pro-Europeans.

Just when you thought you had escaped Christmas TV and its relentless round of recycled film favourites, a group of MPs have come up with a new version of Back to the Future. But to make it more interesting, they have thrown in bits of Alice in Wonderland as well.

“Common Market 2.0” proposes that the UK should, at the end of May’s proposed transition in 2021, rejoin the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and be part of the EU’s European Economic Area (EEA). Like Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, the UK would be bound by all the EU’s single market rules except in relation to agriculture and fisheries. But crucially, the UK would have no voice and no vote when the rules were adopted. This is supposedly like going back to the EU we joined in 1973 but the single market didn’t exist then and we have always had a vote on EU rules.

This proposal requires MPs to endorse May’s flawed Brexit deal and the consent of the other members of EFTA and of the EU. As Norway has found, it is the far larger EU that wields the power in such a negotiation because access to its single market is highly prized.

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Successive governments have rejected the Norway option, for reasons often pointed out by Norwegian politicians. It’s expensive – Norway is the tenth largest contributor to the EU budget. It means being outside the Common Fisheries Policy but the EU will insist on access to your territorial waters, as it has done with Norway. And it means adopting most EU legislation without any say. Norway has adopted two-thirds of EU rules, so far.

The UK’s ultimate relationship could be even closer than Norway’s. Norway is not in a customs union with the EU, and as such has customs checks at its border. But the UK and EU have both committed to keeping the Irish land border open after Brexit. That will require some sort of customs union and a backstop-style mechanism to ensure there is no hard border if talks breakdown. What’s more, the Irish question makes it unclear whether the UK would be able to be outside the EU’s agricultural policy like Norway.

The Norway option also means retaining free movement of people. This is because it is one of the four freedoms on which the single market is based and adopting those is a requirement for any country wanting to be in it.

Having taken us back to the future with their talk of a Common Market, the advocates of the Norway option have thrown in the Alice in Wonderland notion that the UK could be in the single market and still stop free movement. This is because the EEA agreement allows countries to suspend parts of it in the event of “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties”. But this has only been done once in connection with free movement, by tiny Liechtenstein in 1995, while it negotiated with the other EEA members. It is not a general right to restrict free movement and it is mischievous to suggest that it could be used in that way.

MPs are looking for ways to avoid crashing out of the EU without a deal. But we can’t go back in time. The best way to avoid a no-deal Brexit is not to join Norway in accepting EU rules without a vote over them but for Parliament to adopt a People’s Vote.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

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