As Parliament debated the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal I spoke about respecting the referendum result and how Norway Plus is the best way to do that. The instruction given by 52:48 referendum vote is clear: move house, but stay in same neighbourhood. To leave EU’s political project, but to retain full access to a market of 500 million consumers. Norway Plus meets those aims, introduces a safeguard on Freedom of Movement & solves the Irish border issue.
Stephen Kinnock: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald).
It is clear that the Prime Minister’s deal is dead in the water, so it is imperative that we now turn our thoughts to the alternatives. In doing so, we must ask ourselves a very simple but vital question. What did the 52:48 mandate actually instruct the House to do? The answer to that question is clear: it was a call for Britain to leave the EU’s political institutions and projects, while maintaining the closest possible economic relationship with the 500 million consumers on our doorstep. It was an instruction to move house, but to stay in the same neighbourhood. So the fundamental question is this: how do we convert that mandate into practice?
Well, first we must seek a general election, but if that is not possible, we must pivot immediately to Norway plus. Many people refer to Norway plus as a plan B, but for me it has always been plan A. For two years I have been making the case for an EEA-based Brexit, because I believe passionately that it offers an exciting future. It would enable us to be a leading light in a group of like-minded European countries that sit outside the political institutions of the EU, but enjoy full participation in the single market. It would also enable us to reimagine and reinvent our relationship with Europe.
European leaders are now recognising the limitations of the EU’s one-size-fits-all approach to integration. President Macron in particular is a strong supporter of the concept of a multi-tier Europe that better reflects the different histories, cultures and political temperaments of its component parts. Importantly, Norway’s Prime Minister and Iceland’s Foreign Minister have also confirmed that they would welcome us into the EEA, while Michel Barnier has made it clear that, from the outset, the EEA plus a form of customs union was always on the table.
Some are concerned about our ability to control immigration in the EEA, but 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 such actions would have to be both proportionate and in accordance with the original legislation. Norway plus would also solve the Irish border issue, because single market plus customs union delivers frictionless trade and is therefore currently the only realistic guarantor of the Good Friday agreement.
My party’s Front-Bench amendment calls for a permanent customs union and a “strong single market deal”. That sounds like Norway plus to me. If our six tests and Front-Bench amendment clearly set out the what, Norway plus provides the how. If our Front Bench were to adopt Norway plus, it would become the flesh on the bones of Labour’s Brexit policy, because it is the only plan that offers the certainty, clarity and security of leaving the EU via a well established, well understood and fully ratified international treaty. By committing to Norway plus we would be underlining the fact that we are not only an Opposition, but we are a Government in waiting, with a constructive, realistic and workable proposal that is truly in the national interest, that can clearly command a cross-party majority in this House, and that can dig us out of this constitutional crisis.
Our country is not only polarised; it is paralysed. Communities and families are divided, and Parliament has fought itself to a standstill. As politicians, we desperately need to start building bridges. Having campaigned for remain, I can see the attraction of a people’s vote, but I can also see the risks. What would it say about our fragile parliamentary democracy if we just threw this back to the public? Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe passionately in parliamentary sovereignty. Our constituents are crying out for us to do the job and solve this problem. A Norway plus-based Brexit would be a strong compromise in the national interest, and it is only by compromising that we will get ourselves out of this mess. It is only by doing this that we can reunite our deeply divided country.