Scandinavian country proves life outside the EU’s stiffling rules is more than possible , writes Brian Monteith
It was a common refrain during the independence referendum that Scotland should look towards Norway for inspiration and find attractive reasons for leaving the Union.
How ironic then that last week the Prime Minister should take a not dissimilar approach and look towards Norway for inspiration – and seek to find reasons to stay in the Union – the European Union.
His comments were little more than throw-away lines made to knock down a straw man of his own construction – that a United Kingdom outside the EU would end up with have the same relationship as exists between Norway and the EU. The very fact that he felt the need to dismiss Norway’s success revealed the sense of panic that is beginning to engulf his government’s attempts at renegotiating a new deal that can satisfy the British public.
The Prime Minister and others who share his position of EU membership at all costs like to say that Norway still has to pay taxpayers’ money to the EU, still has to accept EU migrants, and still has to accept regulations that it has no say in – so that it can access to the EU’s single market. The claims are intentionally deceptive. Other nations – from the United States to Australia or Mexico to China – also have access to the so-called single market but do not have to pay any EU membership fees, do not need to accept EU workers without visas and do not have a say in the regulations – but they get on with trading all the same.
Membership of the old Common Market may have been required to gain easier access to the markets of that old customs union in the seventies, but times have changed and our planet now trades under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation and other related bodies. The European economic fortress that erected immoral barriers to trade and ensured poverty for the developing world has been torn down over the past 30 years, making the European Union obsolete and redundant.
Nowadays the WTO rules of “most favoured nation status” ensure that countries cannot give preferential treatment without giving every other nation the same terms. The result has been tariffs tumbling to the point that they are on average only 1.09 per cent and are of less consequence than currency fluctuations that can easily shift 5 per cent in a day and huge numbers over a month.
What the Prime Minister does not reveal when he talks about Norway is how its opinion polls consistently show support in the region of 70 per cent for remaining outside the EU – generating calls for an even looser relationship than at present. What would David Cameron give to have 70 per cent support for Scotland remaining in the UK, or for that matter Nicola Sturgeon to achieving that level of support for independence? There would be a second referendum before you could spell the words.
Norway does not have to endure the corrupting common agriculture policy or common fisheries policy which have so distorted our own food production, pushed up grocery prices for consumers whilst denying markets to farmers in Africa, Asia and the Americas – so that we need to send them foreign aid.
Nor does Norway adopt all EU directives and regulations, accepting only 4,723 of a total of 52,183 EU regulations, or 9 per cent, between 2000 and 2013. As for influence over these laws we need to be honest with ourselves (or at least the Prime Minister needs to be honest with us) for we lost all of the 77 laws that we challenged in the European Council of Ministers and had them all, repeat all, forced upon us. Our influence in this era of majority voting when eurozone countries have the whip hand is much over-rated. Norway has no such difficulties.
The simple fact is that many countries without membership, often those that are wealthier than the United Kingdom, have better relationships with the EU.
Cameron’s real problem is that he never anticipated he would get this far with a referendum and would never need to renegotiate. Now that he is in that trap of his own making he knows he cannot deliver a new deal that will sound in any way substantial. “Is that it? Why did he bother?” will be the cry. Like all politicians in such a bind he will seek to lay scare stories and plant fear in the minds of the British public – nationalists will be familiar with these tactics and should be wise to it.
Everyone at Westminster can see he is in trouble and are thinking of their position for when he fails.
Yesterday, on the Andrew Marr show, Theresa May studiously avoided ruling out the idea that she might find the Prime Minister’s settlement so poor that she would have to reject it and instead lead the campaign for a “leave” vote. All she would state was her support for Cameron’s best efforts; hardly a ringing endorsement from someone with her eye on his job when it is time for him to go.
It would be impossible for George Osborne, Cameron’s heir apparent, to replace the Prime Minister if there is a vote for Brexit, for Osborne is the PM’s chief negotiator and strategist. If Cameron has to fall on his sword – and it would be his EU strategy, his EU deal and his EU campaign that would have led him and his government to defeat that would make any other outcome impossible – then it would also be Osborne’s sword of Damocles.
The Chancellor would not be some reluctant Cabinet minister dragooned into making supporting statements, no, he will be out on the stump calling for people to back the plan he personally negotiated. There would be no hiding place for Cameron’s number two, even a temporary appointment would have to go to another senior minister until the Conservative Party held its leadership election. Who better than the longest-serving post war Home Secretary?
If May were to resign her cabinet position and front-up the Leave campaign she would then become the natural successor for a defeated Prime Minister.
The Conservatives, wishing to heal their divisions as quickly as possible, could be expected to adopt a politician who had shown a willingness to put her own principles before her ministerial career. Those are the stakes before Cameron, Osborne and May.
• Brian Monteith is a director of Global Britain