Nick Boles: Norway-plus offers a way through the Brexit battlefield
If the prime minister’s plan is voted down, we need to come together behind a practical compromise. The only one available is Norway-plus, says Nick Boles
The next two weeks will be a defining episode in the history of this house, not just in deciding the nature of Brexit, but in setting the future direction of our nation. The debate, and subsequent votes, will rank among the most important of the last 100 years.
Perhaps the last time the house faced such a momentous decision was during the Norway debate of 1940, when the United Kingdom’s survival and not just its future relationship with Europe were being weighed in the balance. At that moment the political crisis was only resolved by a cross-party consensus which brought the house and the nation together behind a common purpose.
Nearly 80 years later, we are looking to learn lessons from Norway again, not from a military debacle unfolding in its fjords, but from the example this old ally provides of a well-functioning relationship with Europe from outside the EU.
If the prime minister loses next week’s vote, it is rapidly becoming clear that a version of Norway’s relationship is the only Brexit deal that could simultaneously satisfy the EU at this very late stage and command a majority in the house.
Norway-plus, as Michel Barnier calls it, would see the UK remaining in Europe’s common market, the European Economic Area (EEA), and becoming a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), while remaining in a temporary customs union until new arrangements are agreed. We would leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, the common agricultural and fisheries policies and be free of the drive towards ‘ever closer union’ from the end of 2020.
I will be supporting the prime minister and voting for her deal. But I am realistic about the prospects of it passing. In the event that it is voted down, we need to come together behind a practical compromise. The only one available is Norway-plus.
Norway-plus means the UK will leave the European Union but maintain close economic links with our nearest trading partners. It will protect jobs and maintain truly frictionless trade – something no other plan can offer.
This arrangement would satisfy the needs of the country, the negotiating requirements of the EU and the complex parliamentary arithmetic. Most importantly, we would be delivering on the will of a clear majority of the British people.
If parliament chooses to reject the option presented to it by the prime minister, the Article 50 clock will continue to run down. We have reached the 11th hour, and any new proposal will need to be agreed in a matter of days. By basing our proposals on an ‘off-the-shelf’ model like Norway-plus, one which has already been offered as a potential solution by European leaders, I believe that we can reach an agreement across Europe and across the house.
Politicians of various parties have spoken favourably of the vital importance of preserving all the benefits of the single market. Only membership of the single market delivers all of those benefits and, outside the EU, the only way to be a member of the single market is by joining EFTA and staying in the EEA.
Norway-plus is also the only option that would preserve the integrity of our precious Union. It takes the sting out of the backstop and will allow all parts of the United Kingdom to move forward together in lockstep.
For these reasons, I urge colleagues to bring an open mind to a discussion of the pros and cons of Norway-plus. It represents a fair compromise that reflects the referendum result and the concerns of both leavers and remainers. It can break the deadlock.
It is by no means perfect; what compromise is? But it’s a way through the Brexit battlefield. All we need to do is make a collective choice to get out of our party trenches, and take it.
Nick Boles is Conservative MP for Grantham and Stamford