A comeback for the Norway option

You may be surprised to hear this from a 23 year old, card-carrying Liberal Democrat but I am a veteran eurosceptic.

Such a veteran in fact, that my views on Brexit have barely shifted an iota since around 2014 when I was a Tory-voting Brexit agitator. I can forgive any raised eyebrows at this point since four years doesn’t really sound like enough time to be considered a veteran anything, let alone a sceptic of an organisation Britain has been a member of for over forty years.

And yet the eurosceptic movement has shifted in leaps and bounds towards an ever hardening position with every bit of strength it gained in the established political parties, government and the media. Theresa May’s red lines are perfect examples of this hardening of Brexit — it was even the final straw that led me to join the Liberal Democrats. When it came to Brexit, May’s Tories have become even more extreme on Brexit than UKIP were only a few years ago.

Don’t believe me? Check out this one and half minute video which showcases a plethora of Leave figures (including big names like Nigel Farage, Daniel Hannan and Aaron Banks) defending Norway, Switzerland the single market:

These are positions which are now too toxic and Remain-leaning even for the Remain voting prime minister and (supposedly) remain voting, customs union-backing Labour leader.

So funnily enough, I (a eurosceptic) am now suddenly on the far Remain side of the Brexit debate by supporting what I’ve always wanted: British departure from the European Union in favour of membership (at least in the medium term) of the European Economic Area (Single Market) and rejoining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), like Norway.

In the weeks and months of hardening public discourse on Brexit, many of my Remain voting friends were quick to point out to me that “of course it’s going to be a hard Brexit, what did you expect?” and many of them (particularly within the Conservative party) were more than happy to push through an agenda which risks all the economic woes they were only campaigning against two summers ago. I took a gamble considering what were the likely options of the time and unfortunately didn’t forecast the “re-Leaver” phenomenon unfolding before us — as well as the marginalisation of Remain figures in both the Conservative and Labour parties.

In my defence, my gamble wasn’t exactly uncalculated. I was heavily influenced by the writings of Roland Smith on this platform and on the ASI’s site. The argument that this would be the type of Brexit likely to happen was based around a few observations:

With all this considered, it was worth a punt on my end to answer this binary referendum question on the side of Leave. And yet despite this, the vote was interpreted narrowly within the confines of UKIP policy and Vote Leave’s promises despite the fact that a considerable portion, as much as 20%, of Leave voters wanted to remain in the Single Market, meaning the mandate for a hard Brexit is questionable at best.

The Brexit we’re facing right now is pretty different from what voters were considering in the polling booth and certainly different from the views of eurosceptic academics and figures over past two decades.

Despite claiming that a Norway option, or “Flexcit” is dead, Roland Smith has a great article summarising this option better than I can. What I will add however, is a recognition of a gap in the market of ideas for the Norway option to prosper, particularly at this point in time. I think (considering the following) it is very possible that we can hear it being re-articulated after being trashed by both Leave and Remain sides in the time since Brexit. Strangely enough, it somewhat parallels my original situational reasons for voting Leave:

It will be interesting to see if the Norway option begins to gain traction some way or another. Rather than being agitated by the weird combinations of Labour backbenchers, fellow veteran eurosceptic Peter Hitchens or the Adam Smith Institute — a liberal, EFTA-based Brexit can finally be argued as the acceptable compromise in Britain’s national conversation.

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