This week, The Sunday Roast examines the potential compromise many ministers are passively opting for. But is the Norway-Plus model attainable?
In a typical move by Theresa May, on Monday she announced that the meaningful vote, scheduled for Dec 11, would be postponed. This has been widely condemned by opposition MPs, who have claimed the Government is marching closer towards a no deal Brexit.
Indeed, the European Council are now meeting on Thursday to begin discussions on facilitating the UK’s ratification of the deal. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, the seemingly indefinite postponing of this vote will have dire consequences, not least for parliamentary sovereignty. The Speaker of the House, John Bercow, called the move “deeply discourteous” noting that over a hundred Conservatives had expressed their confidence that the vote would be going ahead.
Tuesday was without question a predicted failure for the Prime Minister, and every potential option for solving this crisis now has its own complex consequences and sticking points. Luckily for opposition MPs, the Tories continue to dive head first into embarrassment, which only solidifies the government’s failures.
It was this week that jet-setting former Cabinet minister Priti Patel once again used her frequent flyer discount to glide onto the headlines, after suggesting that threatening food shortages to Ireland could be used as leverage for a better deal.
It’s actually more reasonable to say Patel just crashed into the middle of the Irish Sea and attempted to erect a barricade shouting “You shall not pass!” Unfortunately for her, this objectional Gandalf impression was widely condemned by British and Irish politicians, mainly for just being a bit thick.
Lot of that going around these days. Must be the weather...
But with every day comes a new headline, and last week was bountiful with its references to possible solutions. The hot topic for some MPs is the so-called Norway-Plus deal which would act as a softer Brexit.
This manoeuvre is argued to be more acceptable in Parliament than May’s deal and could deliver a compromise. The chief architect of this plan is the backbench Conservative MP Nick Boles who leads a cross-party group that is lobbying for Norway-Plus as a plan B.
Is this offer of escape a possible solution? You can bet your bottom dollar that it’s just another brick in the Brexit wall!
- Name: Nick Boles.
- Job: MP for Grantham and Stamford since 2010.
- Political Party: Conservatives.
- 2016 EU-Ref Side: Remain.
- Voting Record: House of Commons.
- Affiliation: Centre-right, self describes as socially liberal but fiscally conservative.
- Claim: The Norway-Plus option for Brexit is a valid compromise to parliamentary gridlock.
- Source: Comment article published in the Sunday Times, 09/12/18. Original published in the Telegraph, 01/09/18.
In the weekend’s Sunday Times, Nick Boles and his supporting voice from Labour Stephen Kinnock, wrote to persuade readers of Norway’s optimistic approach to Brexit. They describe their understanding of Brexit as a mandate to “move house but stay in the same neighbourhood.” This is ironic but unsurprising assumption by Boles and Kinnock, as recent questions over the nature of the Brexit mandate have been called into question.
The potential routes that Brexit could have taken were not adequately discussed. As such, Boles and Kinnock’s claim is likely to fall foul of cynicism or disregard due to the open nature of Brexit. Indeed, People’s Vote campaigners are quick to point out that in 2016 many ‘hard Brexiters’ opposed the leaving of the single market, the king of these being Boris Johnson in June of 2016.
The Norway-Plus deal is the compromise option which keeps the UK inside the single market with a customs union, subscribed to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Boles and Kinnock stress the UK would then align with the European Economic Area (EEA) which binds the economies of Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. According to the writers, this would give full access to the single market which would protect jobs. The ‘Plus’ portion is the creation of a temporary customs union with the EU, which would stay in place until a formal trade deal had been negotiated – similar to Theresa May’s deal and would require a preventative backstop.
Unfortunately for Boles and Kinnock, the prospect of joining this small trio of nations in their club is already a dud. This is due to a number of lofty political barriers which the UK could not pass through. Firstly, Norwegian politicians have rejected the aspiration outright. As a smaller trading consortium, it would be mandatory for the UK to receive permission to join, and with one of three nations already slapping Boles and Kinnock down, it’s looking shaky.
On Friday, the Norway-Plus option was at its peak discussion. The concept has been gaining traction in Parliament, with reports of the model being used as a plan B for the failure of substantial support for the Government’s deal. Channel 4 News interviewed the Norwegian MP and President of Norway’s European Movement, Heidi Nordby Lunde who certainly raised eyebrows for prospective Norway-Plus fans. Her scepticism is shared too by the Acting CEO of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, Ole Erik Almlid who outright asks, “But would you [UK] be ready to go from being a rule-maker to being a rule-taker?”
The Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg warned the UK back in 2016 that their departure from Europe won’t be liked. Her warnings were clearly not listened to as in May this year, Solberg raised her concerns again stating that the UK would need to follow established rules, including allowing free movement and ECJ jurisdiction – which are all unacceptable to Theresa May and Brexiters.
Iceland’s ambassador to the UK Stefán Haukur Jóhannesson has also added a voice to this potential plan. In May, the King’s College-based research group UK in a Changing Europe published its report on the future of fisheries after Brexit, with direct comparison to Iceland, Norway, and the Faroe Islands. Jóhannesson expressed his concerns over the complications arising from a lack of shared management over fishing. “We have seen very difficult management issues on a national level... we are, as we speak, currently over-fishing stocks. They are under threat and that is very serious.” The ambassador is rightly concerned over post-Brexit fisheries management, as well as other coastal nations.
For the three EEA nations, the UK would pose a significant risk to the balance of trade and commerce between the EU and EEA partners. Heidi Nordby Lunde has expressed grave anxiety over the UK joining the EEA, going so far to state “We’re not interested in being the rebound girl while you look for better options.” And for the President of their nation’s European movement to believe so strongly against such a move, cannot be ignored – but definitely admired!
“It would be like inviting the rowdy uncle to a Christmas party, spiking the drinks and hoping that things go well. They would not.” (Norwegian MP & President of Norway’s European Movement, Heidi Nordby Lunde)
Unfortunately for Nick Boles and Stephen Kinnock, who have clearly desired a compromise to the Brexit fiascos, their plan for interrupting the harmonious pattern of EEA trade will almost certainly be blocked. The risk is whether Parliament believes that Norway-Plus is the best route after the cancellation of the meaningful vote. If that’s the case, then a plan C will be needed as well. As a potential compromise it’s a solid and attractive choice on paper. It provides a Brexit without too much disruption to the economy or citizens rights. But with positions so entrenched in the slime of Brexit subterfuge, Norway-Plus perhaps might be just another passing label on this dark timeline.
To finish, the failure to present a meaningful vote to Parliament on this entire project is dangerous. With the ECJ ruling that Article 50 can be unilaterally revoked, the question of a no deal Brexit is now firmly in the Government’s hands.
The Remain campaign is now a much stronger entity and has plenty of material to work with, should a referendum be offered. The Bollocks to Brexit bus is travelling the country like a doom saying Coca-Cola truck, and Caroline Lucas is now the most well-travelled politician in the UK. This crisis is only going to get worse over the week. Might want to turn off notifications on your news apps, just so you’re not barraged with pings and whistles. Gods preserve us all.🔷
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com)