There are two forms of ‘Norway’ Brexit: honest and sneaky

by Hugo Dixon | 04.12.2018

People pushing for the so-called “Norway Plus” Brexit model if, as expected, the government’s Brexit deal is defeated come in two types.

The honest ones accept that the package would involve not just full access to the single market but the customs union, free movement, budget payments and rule-taking. Forever. Even if one was prepared to put up with the blow to national pride from Britain being turned into a total political eunuch, there’s no chance that MPs will back it.

The Labour front bench will rightly whip against such a package. So will the Tories front bench. The number of backbenchers in either party who will be prepared to support it is small. So it is a dead duck.

Then there is the other group of “Norway Plus” advocates – the sneaky ones. They pretend we can have full access to the single market but pull out of the customs union after a couple of years. They also say we won’t need full free movement of people and our payments to the EU can be much smaller than our current fee.

If such a package was available, it might be appealing to some MPs – even though it would still be against the national interest to be turned into a passive rule-taker. But the sneaky version of Norway Plus is another cake-and-eat-it mirage. It doesn’t exist, for the following reasons.

The Irish border

The single market on its own will not keep the Irish border open. You need the customs union as well for that. There’s no way the EU would agree a single market-only deal.

Free movement of people

The idea that the EU would give us anything more on free movement if we quit the EU but stay in the single market than we could get as a full member is also for the birds.

There are, of course, already things we can do to control free movement while staying in the EU, such as registering EU citizens when they settle here. And the EU could well agree further reforms to the way free movement operates – just as it tightened up the rules on so-called posted workers earlier this year.

Payments to the EU

It’s also hard to see our membership fee falling much, if at all, under Norway Plus. Norway already pays roughly the same per capita as we do on a net basis, and it doesn’t have access to the full range of the EU non-economic programmes that the government wants to stay in. What’s more, if we quit the EU, we’d probably lose the rebate on our membership fee that Margaret Thatcher famously negotiated. If so, we could even end up paying more than we do now.


The sneaky advocates of Norway Plus also pretend that we can pull out of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). It’s much more likely that we will end up trapped in something like both but without the ability to influence them any longer.

The Norway Plus advocates point out that Norway isn’t in either the CFP or CAP. That’s true. But Norway is only in the single market, not the customs union. It’s not in the “plus” part of Norway Plus.

Once you put the single market and customs union together, you have totally open borders between the UK and the EU. But then our farming produce is free to go to the rest of the EU without any controls at all (which Norway’s produce can’t). There’s no way that the EU will allow this unless we agree not to subsidise our farmers any more than it subsidises theirs.

We could, of course, cut subsidies to agriculture. But with totally open borders, our farming industry would then face unfair competition from EU farmers. The only sensible approach would be to mimic the CAP’s subsidy regime without a vote on it. Given that we’ve played a noble role in reforming the CAP over the past four decades – getting rid of those wine lakes and butter mountains – how is that in the national interest?


Similarly, the EU has made clear that it wants us to agree the existing quota regime for fishing before we get any long-term trade deal. That would apply to Norway Plus as much as the prime minister’s plan. So we’d be in a form of the CFP but without a vote.

How would that be in the national interest? People seem to forget that we’ve helped reform the CFP so fish stocks are more sustainable and dead fish aren’t thrown back in the sea if quotas are exceeded.

No patriot should have any truck with the honest form of Norway Plus. And no honest politician should have any truck with the sneaky version. The Brexit debate has been polluted by too much dishonesty already.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

15 Responses to “There are two forms of ‘Norway’ Brexit: honest and sneaky”

  • With regards to the Irish border – please explain to me who will actually close the border in the event of a no deal Brexit?

  • That’s easy. The border is open because of the Good Friday Agreement. A no deal Brexit tears up the GFA. So we return to the previous hard border.


  • Peter, with regard to the Irish border – which direction do you mean? It’ll be closed by both sides, and each will have reasons that are valid in the context.

    The British will close it because the Government has decided that ending free movement between the UK and the EU is the be-all and end-all of Brexit, and because the DUP on whom they rely will accept no divergences between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK (except on abortion, marriage rights, and any others where they disagree with the rest of the UK!). If the Irish border and the Irish Sea remain open, then there’s nothing stopping a person or shipment being refused entry via Dover, taking advantage of free movement to go from France to the Irish Republic, crossing into Northern Ireland through the open border, and crossing the Irish Sea into the rest of the UK.

    The Irish will close it because they will no longer be able to automatically trust the UK’s regulations to align with their own. While both sides are EU members, they agree to negotiate and follow a common rulebook on product safety, food standards, et cetera. With one side in and one side out, there’s no guarantee that the UK’s standards won’t be allowed to slip (perhaps as the price of getting a trade deal elsewhere), so for the sake of their own citizens and those in the rest of Europe they’ll have to implement checks.

  • Politicians, Peter…….. the terms are interchangeable in the minds of many. Opinion will not override facts…… There is no choice. If they go that route, the border must be closed and the sought-after controls implemented. The whole affair is a complete shambles built on a lie perpetrated by the Tory right-wing, who saw the opportunity to line their pockets yet further and widen the social gap as an added bonus.

  • Peter,
    Ah, where can we find us a politician who will tell the Truth to the public about Brexit? Boris, Michael, Liam, David or even Jeremy? You just underlined why the 2016 vote was undermined by dishonesty.

    You could always stand for Parliament!

  • Tony,
    Ah, you appear to suppose that all those that voted Brexit were misled by lies obviously by your own prejudice that all these people are unable to sift through the arguments made during the referendum because they are too thick. Get real Tony, the main liars were on the remain side – Cameron, Osbourne, Clegg, Campbell, Blair etc etc etc.

  • Peter,
    I readily accept that the their was dishonesty on both sides, with the public caught in the crossfire. You may think that you were able to sift through the information well enough, but many people couldn’t. The biggest lie written on Boris’ Bus was not just factually incorrect, it implied that are EU contribution could make a significant impact on the NHS financing. You can say it didn’t matter to you but it did to a lot of people who would now vote differently if they get the chance.

  • Ending of freedom of movement
    I do not understand why whenever you touch on freedom of movement you and others always write about it from the point of view of those projecting it as only being a one sided negative about people moving into Britain – omitting the advantages to us is quite wrong and is doing the ‘leave’ campaign’s job for them.
    It is a reciprocal arrangement from which millions of British citizens over 45 years have also benefited and continue to do so. Ending it is to deprive us of our own great freedom and opportunity to live, work, travel, study, love and retire across almost the whole continent of Europe – what a positive!
    You really must address this gross deficiency, only a few words are needed. It is clear that ending freedom of movement is the key argument that the PM and leavers will employ to stop us remaining in the EU.

  • The so-called “Norway” option is more complex than Hugo Dixon makes out. The first step is not to join the European Economic Area, but to re-join the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) which we left when joined the European Communities in 1973. This gives us the “Swiss” option, which has so far been little discussed. If we then went for full EEA membership we would not automatically have to accept full free movement. The EEA Treaty mentions only freedom of movement for “workers”, and there is also the possibility of very strict criteria for such movement, as in the case of Liechtenstein.
    It is true that EEA membership does not solve the Irish problem. But then, nothing does apart from not leaving the EU in the first place.

  • @ David Williams – Completly agree. Freedom of movement has benefitted millions of Brits over 4 decades, enriching themselves both economically and, more important, culturally. Also Europe has benefitted culturally from interaction with us.
    Brexit leaves (almost) everyone losers.
    Unfortunately, May has got it into her head that stopping EU migrants is the most important “benefit” from Brexit. She also assumes that all the 17 million Leave voters, voted for this. When asked about the loss of rights UK people will have with a blue British passport, she just sidesteps the question.

  • EFTA-EEA states are consistently marked high on many social progress, sustainability, human development, GDP indexes comparative to other European countries. Common markets and long-shared interest between UK and other EFTA members in fishing, pharmaceutical, technology R&D and finance should not be ignored. It is often forgotten UK was a founding member of EFTA and patronising to both Norway-EEA, and Switzerland, in EFTA, two countries which have been members for almost sixty years and refused to join EU out right, when considered a compromise or inferior model. They, with Iceland and Liechtenstein, have preferred remaining in an intergovernmental trading bloc to full political union working closely with the EU. Trading not only through EU but several joint declarations to secure future FTAs on top of those already held.

    Misinterpretation of ‘sneaky’ Norway, as many of those advocating full EEA pillar recognise the points made but are trying to dispel fears of leavers who have become fixated on WTO-rules.

    Special measures in Article 112/113 of EEA Agreement on freedom of movement are one option of many that a UK government can put into place, beyond those controls they can already exploit.

    EEAA is a complex agreement. There is a possibility of considering UK in a strengthened EEA could secure Swiss ascension (based on current frustration of Swiss and EU Commission maintaining effectiveness of bilateral agreements). On freedom of movement, again, the compromise settled upon by both parties giving priority to Swiss-based job seekers could legitimately be applied in an New EU/UK agreement and alleviate much of the concern raised by those who feel a strain brought by migration.

    With regards to Irish border and flow of goods/services from other destinations to Europe, even strong proponents of EFTA recognise importance of transitional customs arrangement. Unfortunately this has not gained traction in the press coverage. Instead the focus has been on ERG’s insistence of leaving union unilaterally and in a time period. Failing to recognise the technological solutions will not be in ready, and how much single market access alleviates the problem further.

    We would lose the rebate, but it’s recognised by many on both sides as an archaic model that doesn’t well service a modern EU. There is a strong likelihood of seeing it phased out in the coming financial framework period, or next.

    CFP & CAP are opt-outs for EFTA states and it remains to be seen how far they would be adopted. Reformation of the policies is certainly needed. Unfortunately May’s insistence on keeping her red lines and ‘cherry-picking’ freedom of goods has meant agri-food & fishing have almost been an afterthought.

    All EEA states have influence in shaping and passing decisions on new proposed legislation- Negotiating policy changes at an internation/global level as well as European. UK would lose its vote in parliament but over past decade has supported majority parliament decision between 82-97% of the time. I fail to see disadvantage of being ‘rule-takers’ (an oft-disputed term) for legislation we have been and would continue to be largely supportive of anyway.