Should Labour back a Norway plus Brexit?
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
The Brexit deadline is fast approaching - there are currently 45 days until Britain leaves the European Union.
There is still debate, however, on how the UK should leave the bloc.
Labour continues to shift its position, edging closer to a Norway plus Brexit, Perspecs News reports.
Politics.co.uk argues that it has become a "biannual tradition" for Labour to upgrade its Brexit policy, and the party is moving closer to Norway plus under the guidance of Keir Starmer.
If you look for clues, it is clear that the shadow Brexit secretary is pulling Jeremy Corbyn closer to this type of deal, Politics.co.uk's editor Ian Dunt observes. For instance, in the Labour leader's letter to Theresa May, it says that the "backdrop is regrettable but necessary device". The prime minister, it appears, is aiming for a Canada-type arrangement with the EU - different regulations and tariff rates.
However, this means checks on the Irish border, and therefore the backdrop coming into force. The letter, on the other hand, proposes a different destination to avoid it coming into force. Labour's plan requires amendments to the future relationship, not the withdrawal agreement. "This is manifestly deliverable and realistic," he adds.
Corbyn is also using the word "alignment" - something he has not really used before. Starmer has been saying it for a while.
Dunt writes: "It suggests we'll keep the same laws as the EU, enforced by the same institutions. That suggests the same courts and agencies."
And that sounds like Norway plus.
Mike Buckley, director of Labour for a People's Vote, calls a Norway plus Brexit "an act of cowardice". Writing in the Huffington Post, he argues that it is "a second rate Brexit" when people should be fighting for a second vote.
This 'softest' option for Brexit would still harm jobs and industry, resulting in a predicted two per cent drop in GDP and 700,000 job losses. It would, he writes, make the job of "an incoming Labour government all the harder".
It is also not a popular option among the public or Labour members. Just under a quarter of voters (24 per cent) believe a Norway plus Brexit would be a good outcome. Labour voters overwhelmingly back a second vote, and would vote remain next time.
Buckley argues: "The fact that should kill any left wing support for Norway Plus is this: if we want an incoming Labour government to be able to transform our economy, end austerity and decades of neoliberalism, why would we choose a Brexit outcome that cedes sovereignty over key areas of our economy?
"Norway Plus would keep us tied to EU rules and regulations, but we would no longer have any say."
He concludes: "Joining the fight, rejecting the third way centrism of Norway, is the best way to stop the Tories, the best way to take steps towards a Corbyn government, and the best way to show solidarity with our neighbours in Europe."
Norway, along with Iceland and Liechtenstein, is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). This group consists of nations that are also in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), but not the EU, and still wanted single market access.
EFTA also includes Switzerland, who rejected both membership of the EU and the EEA. This group trades between itself, and it allows free trade deals with a number of non-EU countries, such as Canada and Mexico.
If Britain were to follow the Norway model, they would need to be a member of either the EU or EFTA to be part of the EEA; since EU membership is obviously out of the question, they would need to join Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland in EFTA to become the 31st full member of the EEA.
Membership in EFTA and the EEA would allow Britain to maintain full, tariff-free access to the single market.
As part of the single market, in the EEA, Norway accepts the EU's four freedoms: labour, services, good, and capital. While it is part of the single market, and pays into the EU budget (£740 million in 2016), it does not have any representation or any significant say over the many rules that affects it. It does not have any MEPS and no EU Commissioner, as well as no representation in the Council of Ministers.