Is it going to be no-deal or a customs union?
Anna Soubry called out Nigel Farage on Question Time last night for claiming that a “WTO” no-deal Brexit is the only way to get out of the EU. Farage has been dismissive of “soft Brexit” plans, which could involve a customs union or staying in the EU single market, calling them a “betrayal” of the referendum vote.
But that wasn’t what he used to say. Although Farage criticises plans for a Norway-style Brexit, he used to explicitly praise Norway’s relationship with the EU as a good model for the UK...
Brexit: Nigel Farage claims no deal is the only way out of the EU on Question Time | indy100
Perhaps one reason is that it's not actually a good option anyway, as discussed these last couple of weeks:
The UK isn’t Norway, and the proposed common market 2.0 is no solution to Brexit | The Independent
The awkward truth is that a Norway Brexit almost certainly wouldn’t work | Prospect Magazine
As the New European makes clear:
A Norway model of Brexit would fail Leavers and Remainers alike
PUBLISHED: 07:00 04 May 2019
As Britain drifts towards a possible 'Norway Brexit' LARA SPIRIT travels to the Scandinavian country to discover why this would be the worst destination of all.
As Liam Fox put it in a letter to Tory MPs earlier this month, if the UK was to end up in a customs union, “we would ourselves be traded”. He added, quoting a saying used in Brussels, “if you are not at the table, you are on the menu”.
Very well put, Dr Fox. Yet this is where the UK is apparently headed. Britain – even the international trade secretary, it seems – is finally facing the reality of Brexit. It can choose the concept of 'control' above all else – and accept the economic harm which would follow departure from the world's largest free trade bloc. Or it can leave the EU while staying closely aligned to it – avoiding the worst of the damage to the economy, but without a seat at the table, with no ability to shape and influence policy, and at the mercy of others.
The second option appears to be the direction in which the government is moving, with some version of what has been dubbed 'common market 2.0' or Norway Plus. This would leave the UK in a similar, but not identical, position to Norway – the 'plus' indicates that the UK would also need to add a comprehensive customs arrangement to maintain common external tariffs and prevent a hard border in Ireland.
A version of this arrangement – without the plus – seems to be OK for Norway, so would it work for Britain? After all, the two countries have, in some respects, shared a similar path, even if they have taken different routes.
Both were founder members of the European Free Trade Association in the 1960s, before being rebuffed in their efforts to join the European Community by France.
Both then held referendums about becoming full members in the 1970s. But while the British opted to do so, the Norwegians declined, in a plebiscite in 1972 (by 53.5% to 46.5%). Norway did so again in 1994 (this time by 52.2% to 47.8%), although the same year it did join, along with Britain and the rest of the EU, the European Economic Area. This has formed the basis of Norway's relationship with the EU ever since. Through membership of the EEA, Norway has access to the EU's single market, but the arrangement also requires Oslo to incorporate around 5,000 of the 23,000 laws currently enforced by Brussels.
There have been occasional murmurings of opposition to this status – largely from the Norwegian left – but, on the whole, the country seems relatively satisfied with the arrangement.
Ellen Bramness Arvidsson, director of Finans Norge – which represents financial services companies – said: “The Norwegian financial sector is extremely positive towards the EEA agreement because it does give us total market access. When we adhere to these rules we are a part of the internal market like members are.”
Jonas Gahr Støre, the leader of the Norwegian Labour party and a former minister for foreign affairs, described it as “a very Norwegian deal”.
“It has been a national compromise short of membership, which gives us access to the internal market and all the four freedoms – people, goods, services and capital. The exception is agriculture and fish, which remain outside. But we have access to the market and a level playing field.”
Though it was overtaken by Nordic neighbour Finland in the rankings this year, Norway has consistently bagged top spot on the World Happiness Index. The country draws admiration for its strong social democratic tradition and it has some of the world's highest living standards, helped by its North Sea oil and gas resources. Norway, then, seems pretty content with its lot, including its status as an adjunct of the EU. Could a restless, divided Britain benefit from such a pragmatic solution, then?
Kjetil Wiedswang, a commentator at Norwegian business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv, suggests not. He has been observing Britain's relationship with the EU for 30 years and says there have been repeated instances of many in Britain being tempted by the so-called 'Nordic model'. The problem, he believes, is that it is not really available for the UK.
“(When it has been suggested before) People have lined up and said, 'well OK, if you're a small, peaceful, basically conservative, protestant, oil-rich country then you should do it like us',” he said.
But Britain does not share many characteristics with Norway. It doesn't have a trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund and has more than 13 times the population. What works for Norway is not the same as what works for Britain.
A Norway deal would also not solve the issues that many thought Brexit would address. For those who believed a Leave vote in 2016 would mean no more freedom of movement, an end to being subject to laws laid down in Brussels and total freedom to strike trade deals with the rest of the world, following the Norwegian route is going to leave them sorely disappointed.
Norway accepts all four freedoms in return for access to the single market. In order to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, common market 2.0 would require a customs union too – precluding any ability to strike our own free trade deals.
And while Brexiteers will be frustrated, a Norway solution is no more enticing for us Remainers. While it might protect freedom of movement – something which deserves to be embraced, not eliminated – the arrangement would simply mean we keep some of the benefits we enjoyed as full EU members, but without a say in any of the decision-making processes.
A Norway model of Brexit would fail Leavers and Remainers alike | Latest Brexit news and top stories - The New European
As discussed here before:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and Norway saying no to the UK's Norway-plus plan
Futures Forum: Brexit: and the Norway model
Futures Forum: Brexit: and the 'fax democracy' option