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Osborne is building on Cameron’s tactical Norway stance

Jonathan Lindsell, 3 November 2015

When David Cameron criticised the Norwegian model for Brexit last week, many voices in the leave campaign expressed confusion or disdain. The main contenders to lead the leave effort, VoteLeave and Leave.EU, both already advocated different exit strategies. So when Cameron, speaking at the Northern Future Forum in Reykjavik, pointed out perceived flaws in the Norwegian approach, the leave campaigns agreed.

This, I argue, is an attempt to outflank the out campaigns. While not a perfect exit blueprint, and falling far short of many voters’ hopes for border control and sovereignty, the Norwegian option is at least tenable and feasible. It could be a transition step in exit, or a way to legally leave the EU and see how the electorate feel about greater disengagement.

By forcing the leave campaigns to rule out the Norway model, Cameron limited their options – in the future they will only be able to promise the Swiss, World Trade Organisation or Free Trade Agreement options. All of these entail considerably less certainty and market access than the Norway option, and the first and third could take years of acrimonious exit negotiations to attain. In this way, the remain side will be able to attack leavers as fantasists or gamblers who dismissed their own most moderate Brexit choice.

George Osborne is in Germany today, talking to their finance minister, economics minister and business lobby. If he can draw substantial changes from the other European leaders, or a kind of ‘associate membership’ which sounds like a major change, this will be a complementary achievement. Osborne and Cameron would then be able to argue that they have made concrete progress in improving the UK-EU relationship, that they have brought Britain mostly out of Brussels’ malign influence, without throwing the bathwater and baby out together.

Cameron and Osborne are, it seems, fairly certain they will get the renegotiation they want: a parliamentary red card, a defence against the eurozone bloc voting, a favourable clarification of ‘ever closer union’ and some kind of change to EU migrants’ benefits rights. The Daily Mail even reports that ‘European Commission officials are drawing up plans to allow the Prime Minister to stop citizens of new member states being able to work in the UK for up to 20 years as part of his EU renegotiation.’ This would be a major coup and contradict key EU treaty principles, but the Mail reports it is possible, although in exchange Britain may have to pay more into a larger EU budget.

Osborne is setting the stage. Cameron will unveil the details of his demands in an open letter to Council President Donald Tusk, probably next week. This will enhance the appearance of Number 10 as the successful, moderate Eurosceptics who can clinch real reform. The main threat to this strategy: if some smaller EU member states reject the German and Commission proposals to compromise on renegotiation.


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