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Analysis

Tories won’t get numbers in Parliament for ‘Norway’ Brexit

by Nick Kent | 05.12.2018

Some Tories have embraced the idea of having a relationship with the EU like Norway after Brexit. But they need Labour’s votes to pass it in Parliament – and that doesn’t look likely.

There is a dangerous argument circulating in moderate Conservative circles. It sounds sensible enough: “If we go ahead with Brexit, our economy will be badly damaged, our status in the world reduced and our security weakened. But not implementing Brexit risks provoking enormous bitterness. And it would break the Conservative party apart. We have to find a way out”.

But then it continues: “There is a way forward, a way that ensures that we leave the EU as promised but we keep most of the benefits of membership by staying in its associated European Economic Area (EEA). That way we will be able keep the benefits of being in the single market without accepting the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice, or being part of the EU’s agriculture and fisheries policies. And if we agree a customs arrangement with the EU, we will maintain largely frictionless trade with the EU. What’s not to like about that?”

If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. The so-called “Norway option” – most recently branded as “Norway Plus” – has many drawbacks. Hugo Dixon goes into more detail for InFacts here.

But the most immediate problem is that Norway advocates don’t have the numbers in Parliament. They need Labour’s votes to secure its passage through the Commons. But for the Labour party to back Norway would require its front bench to do a spectacular political somersault.

While countries in the EEA do indeed enjoy the benefits of the single market for everything except agriculture and fisheries, they are bound by its four freedoms of goods, capital, services and, crucially, people. That means Labour would have to renege on its promise to voters to ensure no free movement of people after Brexit.

And it’s not even the case that “soft Brexiter” Tories are united on what the Norway option should look like. Some, like former cabinet office minister Oliver Letwin and former education secretary Nicky Morgan, have been persuaded that this is a way to honour the referendum result whilst minimising the economic damage.

But others, including the MP behind “Norway Plus”, Nick Boles, are suspected of aiming for an earlier version of the Norway option – “Norway For Now” – which would see us enter the EEA after Brexit then leave again once we had a new relationship with the EU. The top priority for these Norway supporters is leaving the EU, then sorting things out later.

The awful truth for Tory MPs is that there is no easy option. The cavalry are not going to come over the horizon and save them. May’s deal is dead on arrival. The choice now is to risk the chaos of no deal or to seize the opportunity of a People’s Vote and settle this issue for a generation.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe