There are several members of the British Parliament who have actively been proposing the “Norway for now” option for when the UK leaves the European Union; such an option would mean the UK would replace EU membership by becoming a temporary member of the European Free Trade Association (Efta) after Brexit until a solution can be found to the Irish border issue.
Under a plan proposed by Nick Boles, the former Tory minister, Britain would join Efta instead of the planned transition period while it negotiated a Canada-style free-trade deal. It includes proposals for “continuity in customs arrangements” to avoid border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic and has won Commons support from Remainers and Leavers.
This proposal is seen an alternative to the deeply unpopular Chequers proposal that the British Government is battling to win approval for.
However, those who have been campaigning for the ‘Norway’ or ‘Efta’ Option have been rebuffed from the Norwegian Government, who have said that they are not pleased with the idea of Britain temporarily piggybacking on their relationship with the EU as a convenient way out of the present impasse.
Norway has said that it fears Brexit and British membership could destabilise its longstanding arrangements with the EU and in private diplomatic talks has made it clear that it is uncomfortable with British membership of Efta.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg said that “I don’t think it’s easy to think that you can enter into an organisation you are preparing to leave at the same time. It is a little bit difficult for the rest of us.”
But in an additional blow to those in the UK advocating for an Efta, EU civil servants have joined the Norwegian’s in ruling out this potential option. Jean-Claude Piris, a former head of the EU’s legal service, said on Monday that the Efta treaty was not intended to be a temporary arrangement.
Another European diplomat said that:
“At the moment the European Economic Area is the Norway model. If Britain, a massive economy, joins then that changes it. It will be over.”
This will force those within the UK who have been advocating for the Norway model to reassess their priorities. Given the Chequers proposal is far from popular, the UK Government will need to look to alternatives; whether this be a Canada-style relationship, or a WTO-deal before negotiating a further trading deal with the EU.