The House of Commons faces three choices.
We can choose to leave without a deal. We can choose to have a second referendum.
Or we can choose to form a cross party majority for a soft Brexit such as ‘Norway Plus’, and exit on this basis.
The problem about leaving without a deal is that absolutely no one knows what the result will be. If everyone on the other side of the channel behaves perfectly sensibly, it might be reasonably smooth. But there is no guarantee that this will happen. And if it doesn’t, we risk severe disruption.
The problem with the second option – another referendum – is that, as well as being highly divisive, it will not really solve anything — since the losing side, whichever that is, will argue for a third referendum to decide which of the previous two is more valid.
Under these circumstances, we clearly need to ensure that we leave the EU in conformity with the decision of the electorate in the first referendum, while avoiding the risks associated with a no deal exit. That means forging a cross party majority for a different deal.
Is such a cross party majority possible? I believe it is.
Essentially, what has stopped the Labour Party supporting the PM’s deal is concern about two issues: the effects on manufacturing industry of the U.K. not being part of the EEA free trade area (or ‘customs union’), and concern about the protection of workers’ rights.
Both of these concerns are addressed by the ‘Norway Plus’ option. Like Norway, we would remain in the European Economic Area or ‘single market’, thereby protecting workers’ rights; and, in the ‘Plus’ bit of the proposal, we would have a comprehensive customs arrangement with the EU until and unless alternative arrangements for frictionless trade had been agreed between the U.K. and the EU.
This option is sometimes, rightly called ‘Common Market 2.0’ — because it is essentially similar to the relationship we had with continental countries before the Common Market turned into the EU.
We would leave all the non-trade-related aspects of the EU (like the foreign policy and justice and home affairs arrangements of the EU) and thereby remove ourselves from about 70% of current EU regulation. All remaining EU Directives in trade related areas would cease to have ‘direct effect’ in U.K. law, and we would therefore have much wider freedom to implement them in our own legal terms. Any legal issues about the interpretation of the single market rules would be decided by the EFTA court, not by the ECJ. We would not have any voting rights on trade regulations; but we – like other members of the EEA outer circle — would participate in the working groups that actually formulate those regulations; and we would in extremis have the right to refuse to implement any that we considered dangerous to our interests. We would be outside the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. There would be free movement of workers; but we would be able to remove any EEA citizen who hadn’t found work within a few months; and we would have an ‘emergency brake’ on migration if there were a large sudden influx for any reason. And our financial contributions would be about half what they are now.
In other words, we would leave the EU but remain in something that could well be called a common market.
Is this a perfect solution? Certainly not.
But the question we should really be asking is whether it is a way of leaving the EU that will be tolerable for the vast majority of the electorate as a second preference, that can obtain a parliamentary majority, and that can be quickly accepted by the EU, so we leave in good order before 30 June.
If that is the question, then it seems clear that ‘Norway Plus’ (aka ‘Common Market 2.0’) is the obvious answer.