For­get a sec­ond vote.. Nor­way is the only way to avoid the cliff

Ad­vo­cates of a Peo­ple’s Vote may not like it, but the way out of this con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis is ‘Nor­way Plus’, says Labour MP STEPHEN KINNOCK

The New European - - Agenda - Stephen Kinnock is Labour MP for Aber­avon

Let’s be clear: Theresa May’s Brexit deal is a thump­ing vic­tory for the EU, which­ever way you slice it. On March 29, 2019 our coun­try will ef­fec­tively be­come a vas­sal state for the 21 months of the tran­si­tion pe­riod – com­ply­ing with all EU rules but with­out any seat at the ta­ble.

The EU will have us over a bar­rel as we scram­ble to turn the vague, open-ended Po­lit­i­cal Dec­la­ra­tion into a legally­bind­ing, long-term fu­ture re­la­tion­ship, while the cliff edge of De­cem­ber 2020 looms ever-larger.

In essence we are be­ing asked by this gov­ern­ment to com­mit £39 bil­lion of tax­pay­ers’ money in ex­change for the most ex­pen­sive blind­fold in his­tory. How can we pos­si­bly vote for this leap into the dark, when we are faced with the prospect of hand­ing power from the Bri­tish par­lia­ment not only to the Con­ser­va­tive Party lead­er­ship but to the EU?

When our coun­try voted to ‘take back con­trol’, surely this is not what we had in mind?

May’s strat­egy is of course to bounce MPS into vot­ing for her deal by claim­ing that re­ject­ing it is tan­ta­mount to sup­port­ing no-deal. But this has al­ways been an empty threat. I sit on the Brexit Se­lect Com­mit­tee and hear no end of ev­i­dence about the chaos no-deal would bring, mean­ing par­lia­ment will sim­ply not let it hap­pen. Nei­ther will the EU, whose num­ber one pri­or­ity is to se­cure an or­derly Brexit.

So hav­ing called May’s no-deal bluff par­lia­ment will have three op­tions: ei­ther a) trig­ger a gen­eral elec­tion through a mo­tion of no con­fi­dence, or b) in­struct the gov­ern­ment to leg­is­late for a ref­er­en­dum, or c) amend the Po­lit­i­cal Dec­la­ra­tion and in­struct the gov­ern­ment to se­cure the EU’S agree­ment to the new terms.

I would like noth­ing more than the op­por­tu­nity to kick this in­com­pe­tent shower out of power, but would the Con­ser­va­tive and DUP re­ally al­low it to pass? Tur­keys do not vote for Christ­mas. And while I voted Re­main, par­lia­ment is al­ready held in con­tempt by mil­lions of peo­ple so there is a real risk that a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum be­fore we leave the EU would drive yet another nail into the coffin of our par­lia­men­tary democ­racy, and would fur­ther deepen our coun­try’s di­vides.

More­over, both of these op­tions would be sub­ject to the EU 27 vot­ing unan­i­mously to ex­tend Ar­ti­cle 50, which is far from a fore­gone con­clu­sion.

That leaves op­tion c). For more than two years now I have been ar­gu­ing that an Euro­pean Eco­nomic Area-based

Brexit plus a form of cus­toms union – or ‘Nor­way Plus’ – is the only vi­able op­tion for the fol­low­ing rea­sons: It would de­liver the nar­row 52:48 Leave man­date by pulling us out of the EU’S po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions, while re­tain­ing fric­tion­less trade with the 500 mil­lion con­sumers on our doorstep. In this way it is the only form of Brexit that both re­spects the re­sult of the ref­er­en­dum while also pro­tect­ing the jobs and liveli­hoods of the peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties we were elected to rep­re­sent.

We re­gain con­trol over im­mi­gra­tion: ar­ti­cles 112 and 113 of the EEA agree­ment en­able any EEA coun­try to sus­pend and re­form any one of the four free­doms that un­der­pin the sin­gle

mar­ket. Yes, the EU could take re­tal­ia­tory mea­sures, but the fact is that these ar­ti­cles would ac­tu­ally pro­vide a solid treaty-based ba­sis for ne­go­ti­a­tion, and more­over this would go with the grain, given that there is a grow­ing ap­petite across the EU to re­view and re­form the free move­ment of labour.

We would re­gain le­gal sovereignty as the EEA falls un­der the juris­dic­tion of the EFTA Court, which does not have di­rect ef­fect over na­tional law. This is in stark con­trast to the ar­bi­tra­tion sys­tem that is pro­posed un­der the prime min­is­ter’s deal, which en­ables full juris­dic­tion for the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice via the back door. The idea that in EFTA we would be a vas­sal state of the EU if we were in the EEA is a non­sense.

It would solve the Ir­ish bor­der is­sue, be­cause by def­i­ni­tion it is a Uk-wide so­lu­tion; a fact that has not gone un­no­ticed by the DUP.

The EEA ac­tu­ally ex­ists. It is a wellestab­lished and fully rat­i­fied set-up that would fi­nally put us on the front foot, and the tran­si­tion pe­riod would be used pri­mar­ily to tweak the EFTA Con­ven­tion so that we can par­tic­i­pate in a cus­toms union with the EU.

Bri­tain could lead the way in a new multi-tier Europe. Pres­i­dent Macron and oth­ers Euro­pean lead­ers have made clear their op­po­si­tion to the EU’S one size-fit­sall, top-down ap­proach to in­te­gra­tion. By leav­ing the EU and join­ing the EEA the UK would be­come the lead­ing light in a new group of ‘outer ring’ coun­tries that sit out­side the po­lit­i­cal project while re­tain­ing the full mar­ket par­tic­i­pa­tion.

It com­mands a par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity. In June, 76 Labour MPS de­fied the whip to vote for the Lords’ EEA amend­ment to the trade bill – Labour’s largest re­bel­lion in his­tory. Con­ver­sa­tions across the house show that there is a very sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Con­ser­va­tive MPS who will sup­port an Eea-based Brexit once the prime min­is­ter’s deal has been voted down. If just one of the ma­jor par­ties were to whip in favour then it would be sure to se­cure a ma­jor­ity.

Fi­nally, the EEA plus a cus­toms union is the only form of Brexit that gets any­where near meet­ing Labour’s six tests, and it also hon­ours our con­fer­ence res­o­lu­tion com­mit­ment to ‘full par­tic­i­pa­tion’ in the sin­gle mar­ket.

Our coun­try is not only polarised, it is paral­ysed. Com­mu­ni­ties and fam­i­lies are di­vided, and par­lia­ment has fought it­self to a stand­still. A Nor­way Plus-based Brexit would be a strong com­pro­mise in the na­tional in­ter­est, and it is only by com­pro­mis­ing that we will be able to dig our­selves out of this con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis.

CLIFF EDGE: Troll­tunga in Horda­land, Nor­way. Photo: Getty Im­ages

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