Tonight, the UK media are abuzz, talking about an “exclusive” story in Prospect magazine today about Brexit and Michel Barnier. This exclusive story has since been covered by The Sun, Mail, Telegraph and other news outlets.
There are two major problems with these pieces.
Firstly, the articles attempt to present it as news that EU negotiator Michel Barnier wishes the UK to choose between a Canada [CETA] -style free trade agreement and a Norway-style EEA (European Economic Area) approach to trade with the EU after Brexit, and that there is little to no alternative to these options that he can see.
It would be newsworthy, if Michel Barnier hadn’t already stated that repeatedly, months ago.
Mr Barnier has previously said:
“Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein have chosen to be part of the Single Market, to accept their rules, and who make a financial contribution to European cohesion. But I also think of Canada with who we’ve just negotiated a highly ambitious free trade agreement. Canada is not part of the Single Market and therefore has neither the opportunities nor the obligations. I’m sure everyone understands it will not be possible for a third country to combine simultaneously the benefits of the Norwegian model with the weak constraints of the Canadian model.”
On the 21st of September in an official speech, Michel Barnier said:
"6 months have gone by since Theresa May's letter on 29 March 2017. 6 months will be necessary to allow for ratification before 29 March 2019. There is therefore only one year left: To swiftly reach an agreement on the United Kingdom's orderly withdrawal and to provide certainty where Brexit has created uncertainty: for citizens, for beneficiaries of EU programmes, for the new borders, particularly in Ireland. To subsequently define the length and precise conditions of a short transition period, if the British government requests one. To begin scoping our future relationship, in parallel to the finalisation of the withdrawal agreement. We will obviously continue to trade with the United Kingdom. The future trade deal with the United Kingdom will be particular, as it will be less about building convergence, and more about controlling future divergence. This is key to establishing fair competition. Naturally, if the United Kingdom wanted to go further than the type of free trade agreement we have just signed with Canada, there are other models on the table. For example, Norway and Iceland have chosen to be in the Single Market, to accept the rules, and to contribute financially to cohesion policy. But one thing is sure: it is not – and will not – be possible for a third country to have the same benefits as the Norwegian model but the limited obligations of the Canadian model. And naturally, any agreement must respect the regulatory autonomy of the EU, as well as the integrity of its legal order. Ladies and gentlemen, this new relationship will go well beyond a trade relationship and will also involve an external, security and defence dimension."
Reports on Politico had him saying:
“We are not going to mix up models...but each model is available.”
Why is the British media is going wild about these articles in Prospect magazine, when they are merely going over what he had already stated publicly?
The second flaw in these Prospect articles is in their description of the Norway model:
“Norway represents soft Brexit: it lives by nearly all EU rules, including on immigration, even though it doesn’t have a hand in writing them. As a result, it can trade in the single market as if it were an EU member.”
The EFTA/EEA states such as Norway are not in the European Union, so by definition they don’t follow “nearly all EU rules” in fact, if we want to be pedantic, they don’t follow any EU rules but they do mirror those EU rules which have bearing on the Single Market.
Neither are they subject to the EU’s Treaty that calls for “an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”. Instead, they are subject to the rules of the EEA (European Economic Area) agreement.
To quote the EFTA website:
“The EEA Agreement does not cover the following EU policies: Common Agriculture and Fisheries Policies; Customs Union; Common Trade Policy; Common Foreign and Security Policy; Justice and Home Affairs; or Monetary Union (EMU).”
If the UK had a relationship with the EU like Norway then, we would be exempt from many EU policy areas. We would no longer be constrained by Article 34 of the EU treaties, which transfers huge powers from the UK to the EU.
Does that sound like living by “nearly all” EU rules?
In addition, if the UK had a Norway-style relationship with the EU, we would be able to make our own trade deals, regain our WTO seat, run our own foreign policy (limited of course by our rights and obligations under NATO) and would no longer be subject to EU rules on fisheries. We would also technically have input into EU rules.
In summary then, Prospect magazine have made two gaffes – one is reporting things that are already in the public domain as news. The second is claiming that Norway “lives by nearly all EU rules…even though it doesn’t have a hand in writing them” when both points are incorrect.