More Commentators Embrace The Norway Option As Part Of A Staged Brexit Plan

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At long last the penny has started to drop among serious influencers that a Brexit to the so-called “Norway Option” as an interim staging position is the only safe, stable and plausible Brexit plan on offer – regardless of whatever Vote Leave may say

Maybe it was Vote Leave’s alarming pivot back to immigration with the rollout of their Australian style points-based scheme, or maybe it was just the slow accumulation of tactical and strategic idiocy bordering on political self-harm.

But regardless of what it was that finally caused Vote Leave to hit rock bottom in the eyes of the commentariat, we should all be eternally grateful – because finally, serious and influential minds with serious bully pulpits are starting to look past the Boris clown show and talk openly about the Norway Option being the only sane Brexit plan capable of delivering a safe, stable process of withdrawal from the European Union.

First, last week, Allister Heath came over to the light side of the Force:

The core assumption of the anti-Brexit economists is that leaving would erect damaging barriers to trade; the pro-Brexit side must take on and demolish these arguments. The good news is that it’s quite easy to do so. The Leave campaign’s long-term aim is to break away completely from the EU. But there is no doubt that, were we to vote Leave on June 23, the UK would seek to adopt, as an interim solution, a Norwegian-style relationship with the EU which ensures that we remain in the single market, giving us plenty of time to work out new arrangements with the rest of the world.

That is both the only realistic way we would quit the EU – the only model, that, plausibly, MPs would support as a cross-party compromise deal – and the best possible way for us to do it. The Norwegians would welcome us with open arms, as their own influence would be enhanced, and other EU nations would seek to join us. Such a deal would eliminate most of the costs of leaving, while delivering a hefty dose of benefits as a down payment.

As part of the European Free Trade Association, we would remain in the single market, complete with its Four Freedoms, while withdrawing from agricultural and fisheries policies, justice and home affairs and the customs union. The City wouldn’t lose access and virtually all of the anti-Brexit scare stories would be neutralised, which is presumably why that option was mysteriously absent from the Treasury’s ludicrous analysis of the short-term impact of Brexit.

And now, Heath’s Telegraph colleague and International Business Editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has weighed in with a forceful case for the Norway Option as the only sensible plan for extricating Britain from European political union within the constraints set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty:

The Leave campaign must choose. It cannot safeguard access to the EU single market and offer a plausible arrangement for the British economy, unless it capitulates on the free movement of EU citizens.

One or other must give. If Brexiteers wish to win over the cautious middle of British politics, they must make a better case that our trade is safe. This means accepting the Norwegian option of the European Economic Area (EEA) – a ‘soft exit’ – as a half-way house until the new order is established.

It means accepting the four freedoms of goods, services, capital, and labour that go with the EU single market. It means swallowing EU rules, and much of the EU Acquis, and it means paying into the EU budget.

We can quibble over the wording “much of the EU acquis”, as analysis puts it closer to reasonable-sounding 28 percent, but otherwise this is spot on. The article actually explicitly mentions Flexcit and the work of Dr. Richard North, as well as the recent welcome interventions from the Adam Smith Institute courtesy of ASI fellow Roland Smith. In fact, the Telegraph is becoming quite the incubator of serious liberal Brexit thinking of late.

In his latest Telegraph column, Allister Heath goes further and points out that the onus is in fact now on Remainers to explain what the European Union will look like in twenty years’ time given the various crises besetting it (and the EU’s instinctive ratchet towards ever more centralisation), and how voting to Remain could possibly be considered the “safe” option:

The EU was always intended by its founders to be a process – a mechanism by which formerly independent European countries gradually bind themselves together into an ever-closer union. Crises were seen as useful flashpoints that would trigger a further push to integration, and its central institutions were deliberately designed to seek and accrue power.

When I was growing up in France, it was made consistently clear that the EU was a political project that used economics as a tool of state-building; the single market was created because all countries have a free internal market, not because the EU’s founding fathers believed in international free trade. We used to be taught all of this openly and explicitly at school: the EU was the obvious, rational future, the only way war could be avoided and the best way to protect our social models from the ravages of “Anglo-Saxon” markets.

There are therefore two possibilities if we vote to stay: eventual abrupt disintegration, or further EU integration. If the latter, how many more powers will we give up when the next treaty comes along, and how much “progress” will be made in critical areas like a European army, tax harmonisation, and the centralisation of justice and home affairs? Why haven’t voters been told ahead of June 23?

The biggest, costliest and most immediate change after a Remain vote would be psychological. Forget about all the caveats: an In victory would be hailed as proof that Britain has finally ceased fighting its supposed European destiny. Our bluff would have been called in the most spectacular of fashions: after decades of dragging our feet, of being ungrateful Europeans, of extracting concessions, rebates and opt-outs, of trying to stand up for our interests, we would finally have hoisted the white flag. The idea that we would hold another referendum on the next treaty would simply be laughed out of town. Voting to Remain would thus be a geopolitical disaster for the UK, a historic failure.

Comfortable, middle-class voters who are considering sticking with the devil they believe they know need to think again. Voting to remain is a far greater leap into the unknown than voting to leave. It’s self-evidently normal to be independent and prosperous: just look at America, Australia, Canada or Singapore. But there are no known examples of a previously independent democracy being subsumed into a dysfunctional, economically troubled technocracy and doing well as a result. As mad gambles go, it is hard to think of anything worse.

And in a final coup, Toby Young has blessed the Norway Option on Twitter:

To which one can only say: Alleluia. Good. It’s about time.

Hopefully we are now witnessing the beginnings of a slowly building stampede away from the car crash of an official Leave campaign masterminded by Dominic Cummings and toward something better. Hopefully this is the result of serious people with pro-Brexit sympathies starting to realise that surely there must be something better than Vote Leave’s sixth-form level campaign about voting leave to Save Our NHS, doing some research of their own and finding that the solution was there all along in the form of the Norway Option.

There certainly now exists a wealth of independent research and writing advocating for the Norway Option as an interim staging post on the journey out of the European Union, and for the general principles enshrined in Flexcit. The tireless indie bloggers of The Leave Alliance can surely claim some much-deserved credit for this turn of events.

But will the eureka moments experienced by Allister Heath, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and Toby Young be enough to make a material difference to the trajectory of the campaign? It’s a tall order – unless they do really represent just the beginning of a much larger landslide of Brexit-sympathising commentariat opinion away from the clown show.

A few columns are a good start, but they are nothing compared to the incessant Vote Leave campaign commercials now playing on YouTube, exhorting British voters to leave the European Union so that well-known NHS fanatics like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove can build a brand new, state-of-the-art NHS hospital on every street corner with the money that we supposedly save.

While we should be encouraged by this positive development and seek to exploit these endorsements, it does feel rather like establishment Brexiteers, in freefall and with the ground rushing up to meet them, have finally remembered to pull their parachute cord a mere hundred feet from the surface.

Action at this late stage is unlikely to significantly slow our descent, and our slim hopes of survival rest either in having our fall arrested by the branches of a major anti-establishment backlash, or by landing in the soft, distasteful swamp of stronger than expected anti-immigration sentiment.

Victory for the Leave camp is not yet impossible – all the more reason to keep fighting – but having waited so late to even begin to publicly embrace any kind of Brexit plan, neither is our fate squarely in our own hands.

 

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