Last week both Vote Leave and Leave.EU opted out of defending what was heretofore known as the “Norway Option” against a misleading attack from the British Prime Minister and instead opted to add some distorting nonsense of their own. The newly launched Leave HQ website took a much more sensible line, making the point that while not ideal “Norway is the doorway” to greater global participation and enhanced democracy at home.
The campaign manager for Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings, ably demonstrated his arrogance and his ignorance, but little else, when he declared that:
“2/ The ‘Norway option’ is not @VoteLeave’s policy nor will it be because a) we can do much better than that & b) we plan to win referendum”
“3/ Making ‘Norway option’ official policy wd be like placing whole fate of campaign on one suboptimal fixed fortification = v bad strategy”
Odder still was the way in which this “genius” emphasised that “After we Vote Leave, Britain will negotiate our own agreement – we will not just take one off the shelf”. This is a very important point, to which I shall return. Needless to say, Mr Cummings does not speak for me or any other Brexiteer that I know.
Adding to the cacophony, on the day that the Prime Minister made his intervention, Vote Leave associate, Douglas Carswell, went so far as to say that Norway has “a terrible deal with the EU, almost as bad as the relationship that we have”.
Let us just take a moment to look at the “terrible” Norwegian deal:
- Norway has full judicial independence and is not bound by the rulings of the European Court of Justice.
- Norway is free to make independent trade deals with whatever country and of whatever type it chooses.
- Norway contributes roughly half as much as Britain per head of GDP to the EU budget.
- Norway has full self-representation at the global level on the world governing bodies, such as UNECE, Codex, the OIE, IPPC, IMO, etc., where 80 percent of Single Market rules—international regulatory standards—originate. An independent voice, veto and right of reservation on these global bodies means that Norway has influence in the forums that matter while the fifth largest economy on the planet has to accept the compromise position of the EU28 in matters relating to international trade and regulation.
I am sure that there are other aspects to the EFTA/EEA package that would suit Britain well, but that is a good start and certainly represents a far better deal than subordination to supranational EU institutions. The fact that EFTA is predicated on the intergovernmental model should immediately recommend the Norway Option to any serious Brexiteer, especially as an interim measure to assure regulatory continuity on the path to independent self-government. The fact that Vote Leave and Leave.EU dismissed the Norway Option out of hand should likewise prompt Brexiteers to question whether either group is capable of representing the outcome that we seek.
In a piece for Civitas, Jonathan Lindsell recognises that the big “leave” campaigns declining to defend the interim Norway Option means that “the remain side will be able to attack leavers as fantasists or gamblers who dismissed their own most moderate Brexit choice”. This is crucial. As the Brexit Door explains, in a piece that I recommend everybody read in full, the two-year negotiating period specified under the terms of the Treaty of Libson’s Article 50 necessitate acceptance of an “off-the-shelf” agreement to ameliorate the complexity of agreeing a new system of regulatory compliance. Although the Flexcit plan also details multiple fallback scenarios, for the purpose of the referendum campaign, a credible “leave” organisation is obliged to promote an interim deal of some kind, of which membership of EFTA/EEA or the Norway Option, as it is known, is the best.
This brings us to another important point. The Flexcit plan is a six-stage proposal that recognises leaving the EU is a process not an event. The Norway Option or the Norway Interim, as I shall refer to it from hereon, is only a temporary expedient to assuage concerns that leaving the EU will impact jobs and investment. Akin to Brexit becoming Flexcit so as to acknowledge the need for flexible response and continuous development during the Brexit process, the Norway Option should properly be referred to as the Norway Interim in recognition of its temporary role in assuring a smooth transition from EU Member State to independent nation. Once phase one has been successfully negotiated, the British government can start to work towards a longer-term settlement that addresses the vexed issue of immigration (phase two) and seeks to create a genuine free trade zone in Europe that respects the political and judicial independence of all member nations while creating opportunities for greater economic growth and co-operation across frontiers (phase three). Sclerotic supranational EU institutions do not allow us the flexibility that we need.
In other words, a successful Article 50 negotiation demands an interim agreement of some kind. The two are a “packaged deal”, which brings us back to the bottomless stupidity of Dominic Cummings and his colleagues in the Vote Leave campaign. The possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a credible exit plan is practically nill and Vote Leave do not have one. The only EU exit plan worth the name is Flexcit, which, recognises the need to negotiate an Article 50 agreement in just two years, hence, acceptance of an important role for the Norway Interim. Unlike a traditional referendum, in this particular contest, how we win is as important as winning. If we “win” by promising to end “free movement of people” or “cut red tape”, for instance, we lose, because the British government would not be able to agree that deal with the EU, which effectively means not leaving because to do so without an agreement spells disaster. Dr Richard North expertly deconstructs what he calls the “better deal” fallacy here.
Moreover, say that the misguided arguments made by the Vote Leave patsies and Leave.EU numpties present Cameron with a set of points that he “can’t answer”—he is on the ropes, battered and beaten, with only say a month to go, for all intents and purposes, the game is up, we’re leaving the EU—then Cameron returns with “associate membership” and low and behold Cameron’s offer and the prospectus being offered by the big “leave” campaigns fit together hand in glove. That’s Game Over.
In refusing to engage with the real enemy on the crucial point of the Norway Interim and the way in which it complements a safe negotiated exit, both Vote Leave and Leave.EU have absented themselves from the referendum debate. Neither campaign is capable of representing the outcome Brexiteers seek because neither campaign has a credible plan to leave the EU.