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The key to victory: Defending the “Norway option”

“You can be like Norway […] and you can have full access to the single market but you have absolutely no say over the rules of that market”.

In October 2014 there was a coordinated attack on the so-called “Norway option”, the model of leaving the EU which involves rejoining EFTA and trading with the EU via the EEA. David Cameron went on the offensive, along with the Stronger In campaign, with interviews in the press with Europhile Norwegian politicians and several columns from various hacks wheeling out the tired old canards about “fax democracy”.

It is speculative to be sure, but I believe it is likely that this offensive was spurned by Civil Service analysis showing that transitioning from EU membership to EFTA/EEA membership offers an economically secure, de-risked secession that leaves the business environment unchanged, thereby destroying the fear mongering of Armageddon peddling Europhiles.

This, combined with research that shows the attractiveness of this option to the British public, adds up a threat to the Remain campaign. Hence the concerted efforts to propagate myths and attempt to close off this option as early as possible.

Luckily for Cameron, Leave.eu, Vote Leave, Grassroots Out and Ukip all foolishly dismissed the EFTA/EEA route in response, when defending it and exposing Cameron’s lies would have been a far better course of action. That is a battle we can win, but they chose not to fight it. Instead they endorse leaving the Single Market. This is not only an unrealistic proposal, because the Government will not consider it and will pull out every stop to prevent it, but it is also very easy to attack, creating as it does doubts and uncertainty. In that sense it is a gift to Remain.

Despite their rejection of it, the EFTA/EEA route is not off the table. Indeed, it is by far the most likely course of action in the event of a Leave vote. The Government actually revealed its hand, it’s just that the mainstream Leave campaigns are too hapless (and hopeless) to understand and to capitalise on it.

The EFTA/EEA route out of the EU is an offer the British public would be very likely to accept willingly. It is the economic/trading relationship with the EU they crave, and the Remain campaign would be left defending piffling points about “influence” as it backs itself into a corner.

Their tired and redundant arguments about “influence” are unconvincing and easily countered. In any case they would be totally uninteresting to the majority of the public who will simply focus on it being a trade based relationship that allows for a safe, secure and economically neutral exit from political and judicial union.

As Remain backs into a corner harping on about influence, asserting that if the UK pulled out of the EU but wanted to keep the advantages of the Single Market it would have to abide by faxed orders from Brussels. “In Norway”, Cameron has said, “they sometimes call it ‘Government by fax’ because you are simply taking the instructions about every rule in the Single Market from Brussels without any say on what those rules are”.

Aside from those Norwegian Europhiles still attempting to make the case for surrendering their countries democracy and independence, you can well imagine many Norwegians being offended by this very British snobbery and regrettable ignorance. These assertions are demonstrably untrue; the “fax democracy” myth needs to be put to bed.

The rules of the Single market are negotiated at global and regional level. As this Bruges Group report from Dr Richard makes clear, experts and representatives from EEA/EFTA states participate in over 500 committees and expert groups involved in what is known as “decision shaping” at this level. This, says the report, “is a valuable and appreciated opportunity for acquiring information and contributing to new legislative proposals at the earliest stages of policy formation”. What is decided at global and regional level – often tied into a network of intergovernmental treaties – cannot be changed. The EU acts as the middle-man, turning what are called “diqules” into actionable law. The issue is that as long as we are in the EU we have less control than is desirable over the formulation of said “diqules”.

Whether it is technical standardisation of transport requirements from UNECE, common banking rules from the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, international food standards from Codex Alimentarius, animal disease controls from the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) – created, incidentally, in 1924 – or labour laws from the International Labour Organisation, we usually defer to the “common position” decided by the EU when dealing with these bodies.

If we leave the EU in favour of EFTA/EEA membership we would regain an independent voice. Instead of the “common position” – most often decided in-effect by the French and German Governments – our influence would increase. We would be able to express our views directly in global councils, without the blocking middleman of the EU.

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Even within the structure of EFTA (which hosts the EEA agreement) there is a range ofconsultative bodies, including the EEA Council, three joint committees and then over 30 working groups (listed above). There is also the EFTA surveillance authority and the court. Thus, to assert that as an EFTA and EEA member the UK would have “no say over the rules” is completely untrue, unambiguously so.

There is an enormous and wide ranging network of discussion and consultation within EFTA/EEA, on a global and regional level, long before these rules ever get near a statute book. The UK would be an active part of this network after leaving the EU. Engaging in global bodies with an independent voice and the ability to wield a veto is worth the Brexit price of admission alone. It is not in our interests to have our specific national preferences overridden – harming our industry in the process – and being forced to adopt of one size fits all common solutions inappropriate for Britain. The EU’s supranational agenda is increasingly apparent in global forums where it is looking to increase its dominance, meaning our influence will diminish further as the EU seeks the power and responsibilities of a state.

The issue of influence is the main battlefield when it comes to the EFTA/EEA route or “Norway option”. Given that it neutralises the economic argument for remaining, Europhiles have to either express a preference for our part in a federal Europe subject to a supreme government (an ideal few are prepared to champion and defend) or hammer the “influence” point.

For the most part they go with the “influence” meme, running with the “still pay, no say” and “fax democracy” canards safe in the knowledge that most people are ignorant of how modern governance works (including apparently our PM). Thanks to the mainstream Leave campaigns they have been allowed a free run on this; but defending this term is key to success.

This post was originally published by the author 14 March 2016 http://thescepticisle.com/2016/03/14/the-key-to-victory-defending-the-norway-option/

About Ben Kelly

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Ben Kelly is a Political writer, editor & #Brexit campaigner who resides in Yorkshire, United Kingdom. He is the Web Editor of Conservatives for Liberty and blogs in his personal capacity campaigning for Brexit at The Sceptic Isle.

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