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Norwegian politicians reject UK’s Norway Plus Brexit plan

Norwegian politicians reject UK’s Norway Plus Brexit plan

Norway Plus, the increasingly touted cross-party plan for the UK to leave the EU, but join Norway in a free trade trade area inside the EU single market, has been rejected by senior Norwegian politicians and business as “neither in Norway nor the UK’s interest”. The UK would need Norway’s permission to join its EFTA…

Norway Plus, the increasingly touted cross-party plan for the UK to leave the EU, but join Norway in a free trade trade area inside the EU single market, has been rejected by senior Norwegian politicians and business as “neither in Norway nor the UK’s interest”. The UK would need Norway’s permission to join its EFTA club.

The rejection is a blow to an influential cross-party group led by the Tory MP Nick Boles with private cabinet support that is looking for a Plan B if, as expected, Theresa May’s deal is rejected by MPs next Tuesday.

Norway Plus was also condemned on Friday by David Miliband, the former Labour foreign secretary, and Jo Johnson, the former Conservative universities minister, as throwing away a key advantage of current membership “in the form of our vote, voice and veto around the table”.

Their joint assault on Norway Plus, in a pamphlet written by the People’s Vote campaign, is in some senses confirmation that the Boles plan could become a credible rival to a second referendum as a MPs search for a way out of a potential Commons deadlock.

The two men insist Norway Plus “would not be easy to negotiate, would not mean reduced payments to the EU and would allow the UK to end freedom of movement for migrants from the EU”.

Norway Plus, the softest form of Brexit, requires the UK to seek to apply the European Free Trade Area grouping consisting of Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein. The scheme, as revised by Boles, would require the UK also to remain in the European Union customs union indefinitely or at least until a solution to the border in Ireland could be found.

But the plan was rejected by Heidi Nordby Lunde, an MP in Norway’s governing Conservative party, and leader of the Norway’s European movement. She said her views reflected those of the governing party even though the Norwegian prime minister, Erna Solberg, has been more diplomatic by saying Noway would examine a UK application.

Lunde told the Guardian: “Really, the Norwegian option is not an option we have been telling you this for one and half years since the referendum and how this works, so I am surprised that after all these years – it is still part of the grown up debate in the UK. You just expect us to give you an invitation rather than consider whether Norway would want to give you such an invitation. It might be in your interest to use our agreement, but it would not be in our interest.”

Quick guide

What is the Norway-plus Brexit option?

This soft Brexit compromise has been championed by the former Conservative minister Nick Boles as a plan B for leaving the European Union if Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement is defeated in the Commons.

It is based on Norway’s relationship with the EU, which is outside the bloc and the customs union but inside the single market. Under the plan the UK would have to join Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland in the European Free Trade Association (Efta), which would then allow it to participate in the European Economic Area (EEA).

The ‘plus’ in this option refers to a temporary customs union with the EU, which would need to be negotiated to avoid a hard border ion the island of Ireland. The temporary arrangement would remain in place until the EU and UK agreed a specific trade deal.

The option has the advantage of being as close to the EU as possible without full membership, and it would do away with the need for a problematic backstop for Northern Ireland. Like Norway, the UK would be outside the common fisheries and agriculture policies, and would not be subject to the European court of justice.

But it crosses a key red line for Brexiters by continuing freedom of movement, one of the preconditions of single market membership. It would also limit the UK ability to negotiate its own trade deals while a new customs arrangement is under discussion. And it would require continued financial contributions to the EU without an influence inside the bloc.

Explaining Norway’s fear of the UK joining the Efta club she said: “The three countries in Efta have to agree on all the regulations coming from the EU so if one country vetoes something we all have to veto which means that if the UK enters the Efta platform and starts to veto regulations that we want, this will affect not just the UK but also us as well. Part of the success we have had with this EEA agreement is for the last 25 years is that we do accept the rules and regulations that do come out of the EU, mostly because it is in our interest.

“If as I understand UK politicians do not want to be ruled by regulations coming from other countries, why would they accept a country with 38,000 citizens like Lichtenstein being able to veto regulations that the UK wants. That would be the reality.”

A member of the parliament’s economic affairs committee, she said “it is not in my country’s interests to have the UK aboard, and I cannot see how possibly an EEA/Efta agreement could be in the interests of the UK.

“As part of the agreement with the EU we accept migration and free movement, we have our own body of justice but it is compliant with the European court of justice, we accept the rules and regulations of the single market”.

She added: “It is not an option for the UK to stay inside the customs union as the UK proposes to solve the Northern Ireland border issue if you are part of the Efta platform since Efta is its own free trade bloc. We have 29 trade agreements with 39 countries outside the EU that the UK would need to be able to accept. I do not understand why it would be in the UK interests to enter into trade agreements on the basis of agreements that have been negotiated in our interests and not the UK’s.”

She said the only politicians in Norway that wanted the UK to join Efat were the eurosceptic party that wants to destroy Norway’s relationship with the EU.

Her fears have been echoed by Ole Erik Almlid of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise business association who has also questioned whether the UK would be willing to go from rule maker to rule taker. He warned Norway would suffer and parts of the Efta agreement with the EU be suspended if an Efta member to accept the rights and obligations of the agreement.

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