Sunday, 1 November 2015

To be or not to be like Norway

One suggestion as an alternative to EU membership is the so-called Norway model, which would leave Britain in the EFTA (European Free Trade Area) and the EEA (European Economic Area) but return to her a good many other powers. There are, as it happens, a few problems with achieving this status in that Britain would have to rejoin EFTA, having left it when she joined the then EEC. Then she would have to join the EEA as a member of EFTA for which the agreement of every single member of that body would be required. These problems are not insuperable and there is good evidence that the present members of EFTA would quite like Britain to rejoin them.

The Prime Minister has already announced that he did not think the Norway option was the right one for Britain, basing his opinion on that old chestnut, "legislation by fax" though these days it would be by e-mail. Norway, this particular argument runs, has all the disadvantages of being part of the Single Market without the advantage of being there to negotiate the rules.

This argument, that will be used a great deal, is misleading to put it mildly. In fact the non-EU members of the EEA transpose a very small proportion of the EU legislation into their own, most of it having nothing to do with the Single Market. As to having abide by the rules of the country one trades with, there is nothing unusual about that. As only a very small proportion of British businesses actually trades with the Single Market countries (around 8 or 9 per cent) those regulations will not affect the others as they do now.

Most importantly, Norway controls her own agriculture and fisheries.

Nor is it precisely true that Norway has no say in various matters to do with regulations. The truth is, as we know from the state of play in fisheries, that a good many of the regulations come from bodies that are above or outside the EU. At these tables Norway sits in her own right while Britain tends to be represented by the EU.

All negotiations to do with fishing in the North Atlantic, as this blog has mentioned times too numerous to refer back to, are conducted by Russia, Iceland, Norway, Denmark on behalf of Greenland and the European Union. Not Britain or Ireland or Denmark on her own behalf. How bad is the Norwegian model precisely?

Discussing this and related matters in the Daily Telegraph Professor Iain Begg raises an important issue: not much is said about what Britain will look like or what her relationship with the rest of the EU, should the people of the country decide to vote to leave. This is, again, not precisely true. A good many people are discussing alternatives, even as we speak (or write) though HMG is keeping quiet on the subject. We know from certain casually leaked information that the Bank of England is certainly looking at alternatives and one would like to think that our over-lauded and over-estimated civil service is thinking along those lines though one cannot be sure. Big businesses are beginning to discuss the possibilities (and there are several) but it is in the interest of the IN campaign to emphasise that an OUT vote would be a leap into the unknown.

What Professor Begg and his ilk do not point out is that staying in the EU is also a leap into the unknown as we have no idea what it will look like in a year's time, let alone ten years or longer. After all, the EEC in which people voted to stay has changed beyond recognition in the years since the only referendum we had on the subject.


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