ANDREW ADONIS: ‘Norway for now’ is nuts

People's Vote March. Photo: Andrew Stoneman.

People's Vote March. Photo: Andrew Stoneman. - Credit: Archant

Andrew Adonis explains why now is not the time to settle or surrender.

Suddenly the 'phoney war' is over and the battle of our lifetimes has begun. The first and maybe most vital battle is to defeat the idea that we should settle for anything less than a People's Vote and staying in the EU.

The form that negotiated surrender would take is 'Norway for now'. This is total nuts concocted by Michael Gove, for whom Brexit is a game of thrones in which, very politely, the rest of us get eviscerated.

From the beginning, Brexit has been a game of slogans. The winners of 2016 were 'take back control' and '£350million a week for the NHS'.

As the gruesome process has evolved of trying to give Brexit a workable form, new slogans have replaced the old. They are mostly the names of countries regarded as nice, inoffensive and, if really forced away from Nice and Tuscany, agreeable holiday destinations.

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Hence Canada and Norway. 'Canada' is the El Dorado of trade deals and co-operation without conflict. But since everyone accepts that the Atlantic takes a while to traverse and we can't get there in the 130 days before Brexit, how about a safe haven offering the best of all worlds?

Lift the curtain and glimpse, at Gove's invitation, 'Norway for now', the land of in and out, here and now – reached under his wise and inspired leadership, of course.

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To paraphrase Gove himself, I think the people in this country have had enough of slogans from politicians who are complete charlatans.

Leave aside that the Norwegians, in their European Economic Area and European Free Trade Association, have declined to entertain the idea of the UK as a bird of passage fouling their nest before migrating to Canada. The actual content of 'Norway for now' is nuts.

Norway has two attractive features – close regulatory alignment with the EU and very substantial tariff-free, frictionless trade within the single market. But it is also a full participant in freedom of movement, which is a red line for all Brexiters.

It is not in the customs union, so it can't be the solution to continuing the borderless border in Ireland in just 130 days. It is also in neither the Common Agricultural Policy nor the Common Fisheries Policy, so these huge areas of activity would also need an entirely different regime to be devised in just 130 days.

Norway is also outside the decision-making institutions of the EU, and basically has to do what it is told by Brussels 'or else'. This is the 'vassalage' condemned on all sides, which, never out-sloganed, Jacob Rees-Mogg now likens to actual 'slavery'.

'Ah,' but the silken Gove intimates, 'it is only for now'. So what is the meaning of now?

If now is just the next few years, then Norway is in every respect worse than the two-to-three year 'implementation period' already agreed by May, since this keeps us in the entire legal structure of the EU – except for membership of the decision-making institutions – without any further negotiations or uncertainty.

The not-so-subtle Gove subtext is that now might be indefinite, and we Remainers should grab it while we can.

This is classic 'make different promises to different sides and hope they don't notice' politics, another feature of Brexit which has reached Nigel Farage's 'breaking point'. The Brexiters are being told 'don't worry, Norway is just for a few years and then we're off to Canada' while the Remainers are tantalised with 'Norway for ever'.

Obviously both can't be true. The Brexiters have already rumbled Norway and Remainers need to do so too, without giving Gove the slightest opportunity to launch his invasion of Middle Earth or whatever it is called in Game of Thrones.

The truth is that Norway is unworkable and probably unattainable 'for now', and unacceptable and probably unsustainable 'for ever'. To make Norway the alternative to all the benefits and membership of the EU, as a way of pacifying Brexiters who won't settle for it anyway, is appeasement of the very worst order.

Don't go there. Norway's only purpose is to repeat the role it played so unfortunately in 1940 when its defeat led to Churchill replacing Chamberlain. It is finally clear that appeasement has run its course and that we now have no choice but to stand, fight and win.

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