Brexit: What is the Norway Plus option?

What is the Norway option

Theresa May Brexit deal

Theresa May’s Brexit deal suffered a crushing defeat in the House of Commons, with 118 of her own Conservative MP’s rebelling against her. The future of Britain’s Brexit deal – if there will even be one – is now uncertain. One alternative that has been voiced by some MPs is that Britain should aim for a ‘Norway plus’ deal, but what exactly does that mean for Britain?

What does the deal entail?

If Britain were able to secure this deal it would mean that the UK would have full access to the single market and no new tariff barriers would be imposed. The proponents of the deal say that because of this it would have a lower economic impact than other deals would. The deal would also mean that the UK would no longer be a member of the EU common fisheries or common agricultural policy meaning that the UK would no longer have to operate under EU regulations in these sectors.

However, those against the deal have pointed out that whilst the UK would no longer be under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) the UK would be under the jurisdiction of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The deal may also prove problematic on the ongoing issue of the Irish backstop, which could see a hard border develop between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Although the UK would be aligned with EU regulations and therefore would be operating under the same tariffs as the Republic of Ireland the issue of a hard border may remain. The UK would still not be a member of the EU customs union. Moreover, the UK would have no influence on the EU regulations that would need to be followed whilst the UK would be part of the single market. The British government could not influence policy, as the UK would no longer be a member of the EU.

The most controversial aspect of a Norway Plus deal is that the UK would have to allow freedom of movement for EU citizens to continue. This was a key issue during and after the referendum with both the Conservative and Labour party leaders pledging to end it. Finally, the UK would still have to contribute to the EU budget despite not being a member and not enjoying the benefits that member states do.

What does the UK need to do to be eligible for this deal?

The UK would need to join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). EFTA is currently made up of Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. For the UK to keep full access to the single market it would need to be part of the European Economic Area, this is due to the fact that countries can only be a part of the single market if they are either in the EU or EFTA.

What do MP’s say?

Many MP’s have changed their stance on a Norway style deal. Theresa May has publicly stated that a Norway style deal is not what the government is aiming for. Jeremy Corbyn has also publicly stated that he would not pursue a Norway style deal as the negatives outweigh the benefits of the plan for Britain. According to the Independent, several cabinet ministers liked the idea of a Norway Plus deal in December 2018 in the anticipation that Theresa May’s deal would be defeated in the House of Commons (it was).

The deal is being championed and advocated for by the Conservative MP Nick Bowles, who is a backbencher. Conservative MP’s are split on whether or not to come out in support of the deal. On the one hand after the decisive defeat of the governments deal in the House of Commons some MP’s feel that a softer approach to Brexit via a Norway Plus deal may be more palatable to both remain and leave voters. However a key part of the deal would be the fact that freedom of movement would have to continue, Tory MP’s fear that riots could break out all over the country in a similar fashion to the Yellow Vest riots in France if the Conservative government fails to deliver this key pledge.

In a similar fashion, the Labour party is also divided; whilst Jeremy Corbyn has stated that a Norway style deal is not an option, around 75 MP’s defied him and the Labour party whips by voting for a Norway style deal in June 2018. Labour MP’s are fearful of alienating leave voting constituencies especially in the North and the Midlands. Labour MP Stephen Kinnock is in favour of the deal. Some Labour MP’s previously in favour of the deal such as Stephen Doughty MP are now backing a ‘People’s Vote’.

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