Opinion / Politics

Is the ‘Norwegian Model’ Still An Option?


Brexit negotations just keep rolling on. We’re all sick of them. Despite Theresa May insisting that Britain must make its own arrangements, the Canadian, Swiss and Norwegian models still act to some as blueprints for a post-Brexit UK. But are they still viable? JON HENLEY isn’t sure…

Jon Henley

In principle, EEA-EFTA membership would give Britain access to the single market and to selected EU programmes in exchange for a financial contribution, but without the additional burdens of being a full EU member. The UK could benefit from the aspects of European integration it chooses, but avoid those it dislikes, such as political integration.

But, for its membership of the European single market and the EU programmes and agencies it takes part in (mainly research, education, social policy, culture, criminal justice and home affairs), Norway makes an annual total contribution of about €870m. It does not pay into the central EU budget, but transfers money directly to poorer EU states and contributes to specific programmes.

Norway’s net contribution is difficult to work out because it does not publish figures for its gains from the EU, such as research grants. The group In Facts estimates that Norway and the UK pay about the same per person: about £96 per head. But other analysts have reached different conclusions: Open Europe suggests the UK contribution is €139 per person, compared to Norway’s €107.

If it is indeed willing to make a financial contribution, can agree on the amount, and other EFTA members approve (which is not guaranteed – Norway has expressed misgivings), there is no reason why Britain could not join the EEA through EFTA to obtain preferential single market access.

Doing so, however, would entail accepting EU immigration, which Theresa May has said it is the government’s top priority to curb, and abiding by a large number of EU rules and regulations, which would seem to be at odds with the government’s other key objective of regaining full judicial control for UK courts and judges.

Politically, it may be hard to convince pro-Brexit ministers, MPs and voters that continuing to make payments to the EU (albeit not into the main budget), accepting free movement of people and becoming a law taker rather than a law maker is compatible with the referendum vote.

JON HENLEY is The Guardian’s Europe correspondent.

This article was first published in The Guardian. It has been republished with permission of the author.

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