The latest Brexit plan has come too late in the dayby Pawel Swidlicki / October 30, 2018 / Leave a comment
With Halloween marking the five-month point until Brexit day, it is appropriate that the idea of the UK temporarily staying in the single market via the European Economic Area has emerged from the political grave to be touted as a potential means of unblocking the Brexit negotiations.
The concept of Brexit as a series of steps rather than one giant leap is hardly new, having been proposed both before and immediately after the referendum by those Leavers who had the foresight to realise German carmakers would not leap to our rescue, magically obviating the fiendishly complicated challenges of extracting the UK from decades of European integration.
Nonetheless, the shortcomings of the Norway model, offering neither the full array of membership benefits nor the clean break favoured by most Brexiteers, meant there was limited interest in this option even on a transitional basis. Theresa May frequently used it as a rhetorical punching bag to reassure Brexiteers they would get the kind of Brexit they wanted, while the Labour leadership also opposed it, wary of embracing something that looked too much like the status quo.
However, with the negotiations deadlocked over the design of an Irish border backstop that can be acceptable to all sides, the unpalatable prospect of a chaotic, no deal Brexit looms ever larger. Championed by the Conservative MP Nick Boles and endorsed by Brexit pragmatists in both main parties, the “Norway for now” plan aims to break this impasse and create the space necessary to work towards a more sustainable UK-EU relationship.
In theory this plan satisfies a lot of sides’ Brexit objectives. The EU and Dublin would get their backstop—non-time limited EEA membership for the UK alongside a permanent UK-EU customs union—the DUP and would avoid a backstop that risks putting barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, while Brexiteers would get a cleaner break at the end of the process as opposed to the deeper integration envisaged in Chequers.
Proponents of this course of action argue that if the UK is to end up in a prolonged transition period, this may as well take place within the EEA’s established institutional framework, rather than extending the limbo “vassal state” arrangement for a few months at a time. This would take the heat out of the negotiations and allow time to work out the practicalities of…