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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Cameron’s EU Deal – Reaction


Didn’t he do well?

As our victorious prime minister returns to London to chair the fateful cabinet meeting which will now likely set the wheels in motion for a June referendum, it’s worth taking a brief survey of how David Cameron’s deal – essentially an embossed, artfully decorated statement of the status quo – is being received.

The division between those who are angry or depressed and those who are buoyantly cheerful really tells you all that you need to know.

Toby Young bristles at being asked to greet the status quo like a shiny new present, but recognises that such a devoutly europhile prime minister could scarcely be expected to to any better:

The attempt to spin this deal as a great victory, which grants Britain a “special status” within the EU, is unlikely to win the Prime Minister many friends. On the contrary, it may end up alienating people who haven’t yet made up their minds who will feel they’re being taken for fools.

[..] Crucially, the EU leaders made it clear that there won’t be any further reforms, at least none that will mean a transfer of powers away from the centre. So Downing Street won’t be able to spin this agreement as the beginning of a reform process rather than the EU’s best and final offer.

Many of the “wins” Cameron boasted about in his speech were just assurances that the EU isn’t going to take away the protections for Britain already won by Margaret Thatcher and John Major. We won’t be forced to join the euro! Whoopee doo.

Tim Stanley channels his inner Tony Blair and declares Cameron’s pitiful outcome to be “weak, weak, weak”:

David Cameron’s deal with Europe is weak, weak, weak. It could never be anything but. Why? Partly because the Prime Minister is an inveterate Europhile.

He approached these negotiations from the stance of someone who ultimately wanted to stay in – and how could he negotiate from strength when everyone around the table knew that he was bluffing? More importantly, the idea that Britain can build for itself a “special status” within Europe is pure fantasy.

The EU cannot be decentralised; the UK cannot prosper on its fringes. The only real choice is between the status quo and Brexit.

[..] The Europeans made it clear from the outset that there would be no rewriting of the fundemantal principles. Rightly so: one country cannot determine the direction of travel for the entire continent. And if one country gets to pick and choose its own rate of integration into the new super state – why, everyone else will want to do the same.

So Cameron could never have been given substantial reforms because just putting them on the table would have jeopardised the grand European project. We have reached a point in the history of the EU when what Britain needs and what Europe wants are no longer compatible. The only logical thing left to do is to leave.

Paul Goodman compares David Cameron’s loftily declared original list of renegotiation objectives with the limp and shrunken prize he now holds in his hand – and he makes the choice facing Conservative MPs crystal clear:

Many Conservative MPs told their voters and Associations at the last election that Britain’s relationship with the EU cannot go on as it is.  They are fully entitled to say now that they have changed their minds.  That they have been persuaded that Britain’s future is brighter as an EU member state.  That they will swallow any misgivings they have about the deal, and back their Party leader – who, after all, is on some measures the most successful Conservative leader of modern times bar Margaret Thatcher.  That this is no time to campaign for a referendum result that would turn an election-winning Prime Minister out of office, and destroy the reforming work of the first majority Tory Government in over 20 years.

What they cannot say, if they have declared that Britain’s relationship with the EU must see real reform, is that this deal makes a difference.  And if they want to see such change, the lesson of this summit is that it isn’t on offer.  Which leaves only one option open to them, and to Party members of the same mind – to back Brexit.

Meanwhile, the Guardian is priming its core audience of nodding-dog virtue-signallers with key arguments to use against Brexiteers, and confirms what any thinking person knows – that the ultimate decision has nothing to do with David Cameron’s non-existent concessions from Brussels:

First of all, the details of the deal are not the crucial issue. Months ago, when David Cameron revealed his renegotiation agenda, it was already clear that this was not going to be a fundamental redefinition of Britain’s relationship with the EU. Nor would we suddenly find ourselves in “a reformed Europe”. On this, Eurosceptics are right: Cameron’s demands were less than he pumped them up to be, and inevitably, given that 27 other European countries had to be satisfied, what he achieved is even more modest. But it would be madness to let a decision about the economic and political future of Britain for decades ahead hinge on the detail of an“emergency brake” on in-work benefits for migrants.

New Europeans – that pressure group of proto-EU citizens waiting impatiently for the new  European that they crave to finally hatch – are happy too:

The Prime Minister has secured his so-called “emergency brake” on in-work benefits paid to mobile EU citizens coming to Britain. However, it will not be his hand that is on the brake, despite his announcement to the contrary.

The brake is in the hand of the Council.  The Council may be ready to pull the brake for the UK already – but it is still the Council’s hand on the brake. The European Parliament would need to pass the necessary legislation.  So the earliest the legislation could be in place is 2017.

The emergency brake will operate like the transitional arrangements – after 7 years it will drop away. In the meantime, very few people will be affected because mobile EU citizens rarely apply for in-work benefits in the first four years. There is very little evidence to show that EU citizens are claiming in-work benefits on arrival in Britain.

[..] The potential savings from David Cameron’s “clamp down” on other benefits for mobile EU citizens are trivial and petty in the context of the national accounts. They amount to about £30m on some estimates. This is less than what it costs to run the Royal Opera House.

And they are right – the main “headline concession” that David Cameron managed to secure from Brussels remains entirely in the hands of the EU rather than Britain, and would make absolutely zero tangible difference to anything whether it is ultimately pulled or not.

These people have no reason to lie. They are the people who were potentially most affected by any major changes that David Cameron might have negotiated, so their relief (bordering in crowing) is absolutely genuine – and utterly damning of Cameron’s claim to have fundamentally changed our relationship with the EU.

Back to Tim Stanley for another eloquent denunciation of this brazen establishment stitch-up:

There are a million reasons to hate politics: the groupthink of the establishment is one of them. Cowardice is another. It’s like being governed by jellyfish: spineless synchronised swimming in one terminal direction.

For years Tories have used the issue of Europe to win votes, promising us either serious reform or a campaign to leave.

But not only was David Cameron’s renegotiation effort a paper tiger (Francois Hollande: “Just because it lasted a long time doesn’t mean that much happened”) but now the Cabinet has largely decided to follow its leader and back the In campaign.

[..] The entire weight of the state, media and big business will fall behind a campaign saying that Europe is good for us even if, from a distance, it appears to be a giant ball of flame hurtling into an abyss of despair.

Against this confederacy of dunces stands a small number of politicians brave enough to risk friendships and careers to tell us the truth – that this deal is a sham, the EU is dying and Britain is better off out.

I myself have nothing to add at this time. Others have already encapsulated what I feel, and said it better than I could – most notably Dr. Richard North at, who echoes my reference last night to Neville Chamberlain:

Mr Cameron may have in his mind’s eye the image of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich in 1938, triumphantly waving his “piece of paper” at Heston Airport (where the M4 service station now stands), but at least Mr Chamberlain’s “deal” bought us critical time, allowing us to re-arm sufficiently against the Nazi menace.

But this piece of paper is nothing but a fraud – a pretence. This Prime Minister has brought nothing back, nothing of substance, and is now intent on using is as the basis for a referendum where he is intent on selling his snake-oil “special status”.

Yet, all the time, Mr Cameron’s efforts have been a sideshow besides the main event – the real renegotiation under way to transform the 19 members of the Eurozone into a single state. That is the EU real agenda not the stage-managed drama of the Prime Minister emerging blinking into the light and announcing he has secured our future for a generation.

Nor should we assume that the Brussels barons will treat us kindly if we vote to remain in the EU. They will brush aside future British protests, telling us that we have had our chance to do things our way and rejected it. Our prospects sitting uneasily on the margins of the emerging superstate will not be promising. Unloved, ignored and marginalised, we face an uncertain, even risky future, on the outskirts of the new European empire.

But I, and this blog, will have much to say as we now fight onward to the 23 June referendum date. And those politicians who built their jealously-guarded careers and reputations on what turns out to be paper-thin euroscepticism should expect no understanding and no mercy.

The divided Leave camp has been caught napping – Cameron is going to the country with a desultory deal, entirely based on the belief that we are so divided that we will not be able to mount an effective Remain campaign – and by publicly embracing people like George Galloway, it seems that some of us are determined to prove him correct.

If you haven’t been paying attention so far, or have only half tuned in, then now is the time to perk up and fulfil your duty as an engaged citizen. We have just four months to win our freedom from the European Union and, if we succeed, potentially spark a renaissance of real democracy through Europe.


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The Daily Smackdown: Toby Young’s Misguided Invitation To Dan Hodges

Dan Hodges - Labour Party - Defect to Conservative Party

Not so fast, Toby Young. Dan Hodges is an honourable man, but he has no place in the party of Margaret Thatcher

It wasn’t the first time and it probably will not be the last, so understandably you may have paid little attention when Dan Hodges quit the Labour Party this week in disgust at the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and the behaviour of his supporters.

Hodges departed again this week, firing this parting shot:

I’m done. Yesterday I cancelled my direct debit to the Labour Party. “Why don’t you just sod off and join the Tories”, Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters regularly ask anyone who dares to challenge their rancid world view.

I won’t be joining the Tories. But I am sodding off.

Fair enough. Dan Hodges has legitimate, irreconcilable differences with Jeremy Corbyn – both his policies and the way in which he runs the party (though Hodges’ sudden sensitivity to supposed bullying from the Corbynites seems a little odd coming from someone who was only too happy to get scrappy in his past life as a political campaign manager).

But clearly Dan Hodges and Jeremy Corbyn have very different visions of what the Labour Party should be, and nobody should fault Hodges’ decision to quit. I made the conscious choice not to re-join the Conservative Party when I returned to Britain in 2011, out of disgust with the centrist course plotted by David Cameron and an unwillingness to associate myself with the record of the coalition government, and so I’m certainly not preaching any kind of “stand by your man” dogma.

And now, inevitably, the offers to Dan Hodges to come join the Conservative Party are coming rolling in. At first, these were mostly coming from mocking Corbynistas on social media, rejoicing that a turncoat “Red Tory” like Hodges had finally gone (again). But then the mocking from the far left was replaced by more earnest offers from the supposed political Right.

Foremost of these offers came from Toby Young, Hodges’ colleague at the Telegraph, who wrote an open letter attempting to woo the ex-Labour columnist into the Tory fold. This letter is well-meant, but utterly misguided and counterproductive, as we shall see.

Toby Young begins:

On all the biggest political issues facing our country – what to do about the Islamic State, tackling the deficit, the renewal of our independent nuclear deterrent, education reform – you and the other Labour moderates are far closer to the leadership of my party than to Labour’s. I think that’s even true of the NHS, given that the health budget has increased in real terms year-on-year since David Cameron became Prime Minister. The commitment to increase spending on the NHS even further in the Autumn Statement surpasses anything promised by your party. And, as I’m sure you know, the minimum wage is set to rise faster under this government than it would have done under Ed Miliband, assuming he’d stuck to Labour’s manifesto.

And it’s true – Dan Hodges does hold refreshingly realistic perspectives on tackling ISIS in Syria, the deficit and Trident. When it comes to fundamental issues of national security, as all of these are, people from the Left and Right are often united.

More worryingly though, when it comes to trampling civil liberties in pursuit of an unattainable degree of security, both he and Theresa May are on the same page. And if Dan Hodges actually believes that throwing more money at a fundamentally broken and outdated NHS model is a good thing, then there is great crossover potential there, too. I’m just not sure that this is a good thing, as Toby Young seems to believe.

Young continues:

Indeed, on all the most important aspects of Osborne’s economic policy, the Labour moderates are much more closely aligned with us than you are with John McDonnell, not least because it’s virtually indistinguishable from the policy set out by Alastair Darling. In this respect, as in so many others, the Prime Minister and his Chancellor are the heirs to Blair.

Toby Young clearly meant this to be a bright and positive pitch to Dan Hodges to jump ship. But by hammering home the similarities between George Osborne and Alastair Darling and their remarkably similar (in practice if not in rhetoric) approaches to deficit reduction, all he manages to do is reveal just what a weak and ineffectual supposedly conservative government we currently have – Blairites with a patrician Tory façade.

Young concludes:

If your only hope of improving the lot of the least well-off is to persuade the Conservative Party to be more compassionate, then shouldn’t you do exactly what you’ve been urging the leadership of your own party to do? Say to hell with ideological purity and strike a bargain?

[..] I also think that, in time, many people on my side will come to see the value of a Blairite faction within the Conservative Party. Some of us are already worried about the corrosive effect that a lack of serious opposition will have on the government and would welcome a proper challenge. If that’s not going to be provided by Labour, then it must come from within our own ranks. Those of us who style ourselves “modernisers” will regard you as natural allies. In my mind’s eye, I can already see Lord Finkelstein standing at the other end of the welcome matt, bottle of champagne in hand.

So come on over, Dan. You already have many friends in the Tory party,including the Prime Minister, and I’m sure you’d quickly make many more. I think we’d be lucky to have you.

Unfortunately, in his rash invitation to Dan Hodges, Toby Young is falling into the same trap as David Cameron’s woolly “One Nation” model. Sure, it may be possible for the Tories to eke out a couple more narrow election victories by becoming so blandly inoffensive and unrecognisable that a sufficient number of the most bovine voters grunt their approval. But these narrow victories, like David Cameron’s “miracle majority” of twelve, provide a mandate only for the dull, technocratic management of Britain’s public services. Essentially they elect a Comptroller of Public Services – someone to kick when the trains don’t run on time or NHS waiting times get too long – not a world leader.

Convincing majorities – margins of the sort that allow radical changes to the country like realigning foreign policy, rolling back the remaining vestiges of the post-war settlement and delivering a smaller, more effective state – don’t come from pretending to be sufficiently like the Labour Party that it tricks a few wavering voters into switching sides. They come from articulating a vision so clear, so exciting and so blazingly inspirational that people vote as enthusiastic citizens inspired by the message, not self-interested consumers voting based on fear or greed.

A Conservative Party that is tame and toothless enough to accommodate someone like Dan Hodges would by definition be of the former type, not the latter. The mere fact that Toby Young is able to make his offer with a straight face proves that there is not currently a cigarette paper’s worth of difference between Blairite Labour-in-exile and the Cameron Conservatives, a party which enthused the electorate with their vision so much that they are perpetually just six defections away from defeat in the House of Commons.

In 1968, over a decade before she became prime minister, Margaret Thatcher warned in a speech:

There are dangers in consensus; it could be an attempt to satisfy people holding no particular views about anything. It seems more important to have a philosophy and policy which because they are good appeal to sufficient people to secure a majority.


No great party can survive except on the basis of firm beliefs about what it wants to do. It is not enough to have reluctant support. We want people’s enthusiasm as well.

Many supposed conservatives and Tory party members seem to have forgotten that lesson – the essential truth which delivered three terms of a Thatcher premiership, saving this country from seemingly inevitable decline and irrelevancy. David Cameron and George Osborne, both old enough to reap the fruits of Thatcherism without having really understood why it was so necessary, seem never to have absorbed this lesson in the first place.

Announcing the defection of Dan Hodges to the Conservative Party – having David Cameron welcome him at the door of Number 10 Downing Street with a big bottle of champagne and a basket of pears – would be the ultimate triumph of One Nationism. It would complete the transformation of the Conservative Party, underway since Thatcher left office, from a party of some ideological coherence to a well-oiled and finely calibrated PR machine, excelling in being all things to all people. An intelligent but soulless hive mind of people who quite fancy being in power, and who are content to say anything or compromise on any conviction in order to keep it. Thus, David Cameron will go down in history as the twenty-first century version of Ted Heath.

I don’t think that this is good enough. A Conservative Party sufficiently bland and uncontroversial that it might appeal to Dan Hodges, even on his most jaded day, is not one which I could bring myself to vote for at the ballot box. It’s not good enough for me. But way more important than that, it’s not good enough for Britain. This country is crying out for real leadership, a renewed sense of national purpose, and the re-imagining of the state and its role in our lives. Monolithic institutions like the broken welfare state and “our NHS” (genuflect) – fraying anachronisms from the post-war consensus – need to be redesigned from the ground up, with their blind apologists and vested interests dragged kicking and screaming into the new century.

But if Dan Hodges is walking around with a Conservative Party membership card in his wallet by the time 2020 rolls around, it’s all over. None of this essential conservative reform will happen. Not because Hodges is in any way a bad person, but because he is Labour to his core – and a Conservative Party which provides a political home for him is quite simply no longer a conservative party at all. They will defeat Labour and win a third term, sure. But their voter coalition will be so broad and so lacking in common aspiration that they will be even more rudderless and scattershot in government than they are today.

I’m almost certain that I know who Toby Young would pick if he was forced to choose, but I’m going to make the ultimatum anyway, because I care deeply about the Conservative Party too, and I am deadly serious about this.

Toby Young: It’s Dan Hodges or me.

Toby Young - Dan Hodges - Defect to Conservative Party

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