As published in The Telegraph:
After a famous victory for Norway over England in 1981, Bjørge Lillelien, the Norwegian football commentator, exclaimed: “Lord Nelson! Lord Beaverbrook! Sir Winston Churchill! Sir Anthony Eden! Clement Attlee! Henry Cooper! Lady Diana! Maggie Thatcher – can you hear me, Maggie Thatcher? Your boys took one hell of a beating!”
Today the House of Commons will debate several policy options it could recommend to the Government for the next stage of Brexit talks. One is the “Norway Plus” proposal. This sounds superficially attractive. Norway is a prosperous country, at peace with itself, its place in the world and very occasionally good at football. Unfortunately, the option misleadingly described as “Norway Plus” will never actually deliver anything like the status of Norway.
When Nick Boles MP was first promoting the concept, he came to see me. We had several meetings, to which I devoted a considerable amount of time, seeing whether this was a route through the thicket of parliamentary obstacles to delivering Brexit. Norway is a member of the Single Market but is not in the Customs Union. But Nick wanted to take the status of Norway and add to it membership of the Customs Union. The idea was that it would take away every barrier to trade between ourselves and the EU. The drawback is it would take away one of the great economic prizes of Brexit; the ability to make our own trade deals.
Keeping the UK in the Single Market and the Customs Union would be in direct defiance of what the leaders of both sides of the referendum argument all told the British people that Brexit meant. It would also directly contradict the manifesto Nick and I were elected on, as well as the manifesto of Labour and other parties which, combined, attracted 85 per cent of the vote in the 2017 general election.
The aspiration is doubtful, but the negotiated outcome would be even worse. The proposal is that we should negotiate this arrangement with EFTA and the EU but such talks would be subject to the veto of every member of both of those organisations.
Denmark, France, and Spain would demand to retain their fishing rights in British waters and thus lose the UK one of the most symbolic issues of the referendum campaign. It would mean countries that received large amounts of money as a result of our EU contributions would demand that we continue to pay large amounts every year. Our promised reduction in EU contributions from approximately £10 billion to about £2 billion a year would fall at that hurdle. Long-settled issues such as Gibraltar could be reopened, with Spain making demands for joint sovereignty. The UK would have to accept free movement and keep close alignment with EU rules, but we would lack any say in the creation of those rules.
Nick presented the original proposal to me as a stepping stone towards an eventual free-trade agreement. Then it became the long-term aim. Now the advocates of the scheme have fallen back to it being temporary, as a way of gleaning enough votes in today’s debate. I am afraid that once it got through it would prove as temporary as income tax.
Advocates of “Norway Plus” have taken to calling it Common Market 2.0, which is a brilliant piece of marketing but would probably trip over EU trading standards for truthfulness – since it is nothing at all like the common market. Their proposal would continue every problem that EU membership has brought the UK, but without any effective democratic representation. It would not be so much “Norway Plus” as “EU Minus”. The worst of all worlds.
We would fail to deliver what the British people voted for in 2016 and would not take back control of our borders, laws and money. If Parliament chooses this option and the Government follows it, we will carry on debating Brexit for another 40 years. It would not give the UK a role appropriate to its size, standing and power in the world and can only be described as Brexit in name only.
There is still time to stop the parliamentary legerdemain and the procedural games. We should all focus on delivering the Brexit the British people voted for. They want straight talking and an end to false gambits. We owe it to them to give them the Brexit they deserve and should seize the chance to take back control and focus on the prize of global trade deals.