‘Norway Plus’ plan is another Brexit blind alley

by Hugo Dixon | 27.11.2018

With Donald Trump and Parliament trashing Theresa May’s miserable Brexit deal, MPs are casting around for a Plan B. Today’s favourite is “Norway Plus”, a hopeless scheme outlined by Nick Boles in today’s FT.

The Conservative MP says four Cabinet ministers invited him to discuss the idea last week. One of them is thought to be his friend Michael Gove, according to the Guardian.

“Norway Plus” is Boles’ latest wheeze after his previous “Norway for Now” idea went down in flames. The earlier scheme involved tearing up our divorce deal with the EU and negotiating temporary membership of the European Free Trade Association. EFTA would give us access to the EU’s single market in the same way that Norway, a leading member, has.

But Norway wasn’t happy with the idea of us swanning into its club, throwing our weight around for a few years and then swanning out – and said so. The EU wouldn’t have let us tear up our divorce deal either.

Norway Plus is different because we wouldn’t rip up the “Withdrawal Agreement”. So we would still be bound by the notorious “backstop” designed to keep the Irish border open. The heart of this is a new customs union.

Boles argues the backstop would never be used because we would be in EFTA permanently rather than temporarily. This is nonsense. The single market alone can’t keep the Irish border open. We would also need to be in a permanent customs union.

This isn’t the only problem with the scheme. Here are six more:

  • We wouldn’t take control of our laws, as we would end up following EU rules without a vote on them.
  • We wouldn’t take control of our borders, as we would still be bound by free movement of people.
  • We wouldn’t take control of our money. Norway pays about as much per head for access to the EU market as we do.
  • We would be stuck in a one-sided customs union under which the 88 countries with which the EU has deals would have access to our market but we wouldn’t have automatic access to their markets. That would put our firms at a competitive disadvantage.
  • We wouldn’t escape the Common Fisheries Policy as the EU has made clear we will have to agree existing fishing quotas if we want a long-term deal.
  • We wouldn’t really leave the Common Agricultural Policy either, as the EU wouldn’t want open borders unless we agree not to subsidise our farmers any more than it does. So we would end up either mimicking the CAP or hobbling our farmers by paying them lower subsidies.

If we agreed all these things, the EU would say yes – although it’s not certain Norway would. But how could such a scheme possibly command a majority in Parliament?  

The advocates of Norway Plus – both in the Cabinet and on the backbenches – need to wise up fast. The country can’t afford to waste yet more time going down blind alleys. If the prime minister’s plan is rejected, the only good option is to ask the public whether they still want Brexit in a People’s Vote.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

Tags: , , , Categories: Brexit

2 Responses to “‘Norway Plus’ plan is another Brexit blind alley”

  • Heard this one lately?

    Wish I may
    Wish I might
    I wish my wish
    Upon this star tonight.

    It was a great one at the time of my childhood. Didn’t work, sadly, but it was an easy one to remember.

    Another option would be to write to Santa for a benevolent solution to all of this.

    Sadly, my requests to Santa never worked either,. But the well paid problem solvers could give it a try.

    My ideas are for free, no charge. Why not give me a call and I may be able to come up with something really special. There was one that had something to do with walking around a candle 3 times with your eyes closed but I have forgotten the details. Or tossing pennies into the fountain at Trafalgar square, that could work. Cheap too!

  • I am completely committed to the people’s vote campaign. I’ve been to all the marches and I hope the campaign is successful. The other firm objective must be to avoid exiting the EU with “no deal” and no transition period. I am seriously concerned that I have not yet seen a clear and unstoppable plan to achieve either of these objectives at parliamentary level.

    Until we can be sure that “no deal” is firmly ruled out and a path to a people’s vote spelt out, I think we must be careful not to rule out every potential alternative . A Norway style approach is of course much inferior to remaining in the EU but a hell of a lot better than “no deal” .

    Can anyone reassure me by explaining how we can be sure of avoiding a slide towards the catastrophe of “no deal”.