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David Cameron warns against UK having Norway-style deal with EU

Published 28/10/2015

David Cameron is flying to Iceland for a meeting of northern European countries
David Cameron is flying to Iceland for a meeting of northern European countries

Following the example of Norway in establishing a looser relationship with Brussels could lead to the UK handing over just as much money to the European Union, would not cut migration and leave Britain with "no seat at the table", David Cameron has warned.

The Prime Minister said some eurosceptics favoured the kind of agreement Oslo has with Brussels but "I would guide very strongly against that".

His warning came ahead of talks with northern European leaders where the Prime Minister will continue his drive to win support for his renegotiation.

At Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Cameron was challenged by Tory MP Christopher Pincher to agree that "no option is off the table, all British options will be considered including the option of a relationship such as that of Norway".

The Prime Minister confirmed that "no options are off the table" and " if we don't get what we need in our renegotiation I rule absolutely nothing out".

But he added that it was important to be " very clear about the facts and figures about the alternatives" to EU membership.

"Some people arguing for Britain to leave the European Union - not all people, but some people - have particularly pointed to the position of Norway, saying that is a good outcome," Mr Cameron said.

"I would guide very strongly against that. Norway actually pays as much per head to the EU as we do, they actually take twice as many, per head, migrants as we do in this country, but of course they have no seat at the table, no ability to negotiate.

"I'm not arguing that all those who want to leave the EU want to follow the Norwegian path, but some do and I think it's very important in this debate we absolutely are clear about the consequences of these different actions."

The Prime Minister was flying to Iceland for a meeting of countries from inside and outside the EU, where he is expected to continue to push his case for changes to the UK's relationship with Brussels.

Both Iceland and Norway are outside the EU but are part of the European Economic Area, which gives them access to the single market.

But in return they have to abide by EU rules and contribute money to Brussels' coffers - around 600 million euro (£432 million) a year in Norway's case.

Mr Cameron is expected to have talks with the leaders of both Iceland and Norway at the Northern Future Forum, a grouping which also includes EU members Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden.

Dominic Cummings, director of the Vote Leave campaign, said his group did not support the "Norway option" for the UK if the public backed severing ties with Brussels in the in/out referendum promised by Mr Cameron.

"After we vote leave, we will negotiate a new UK-EU deal based on free trade and friendly co-operation," Mr Cummings said.

Will Straw, executive director of the Britain Stronger In Europe campaign, said: "One by one, the alternatives to Britain's EU membership are falling apart. We'd still pay but would lose our say over many rules, including free movement."

European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans suggested that leaving the EU would not help Britain deal with the pressure of the current migration crisis.

Mr Timmermans told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "Britain is already in a position to be able to control its borders, but if I look at continental European states who are not members of the EU - like Norway and Switzerland - they all see this refugee problem also as their problem.

"When we talk about the distribution of refugees, they want to be part of it. They have offered to be part of it. So they understand that, even when they are not in the EU, they are part of the problem, so they'd better be part of the solution. I'm not sure that by opting to leave the EU you would make things better for Britain."

Mr Timmermans said the Commission had no "strong views" on Mr Cameron's demand for Britain to be relieved of the requirement to participate in "ever-closer union" with EU partners, and did not believe the other 27 member states would object to clarifying the issue.

Ever-closer union "doesn't mean that you need to sign up to ever-closer integration at a political level", said Mr Timmermans.

But he added: "If you think it means that and you want it to be clarified, I'm sure that other member states would like to help clarify that. I really don't see a problem there."

Mr Timmermans also said it would be "perfectly reasonable" for Britain to request the flexibility to remove the 5% "tampon tax" currently charged on women's sanitary products because of EU VAT rules.

The Commission is launching a VAT reform process, which could allow individual states greater power to decide for themselves to vary rates on particular items, he said.

Energy minister Andrea Leadsom said Britain could do well outside the European Union.

She told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "I think that Britain could make a very good place for itself inside or outside the EU.

"I think reform is essential and that's what the Prime Minister is determined to get."

Asked if she could imagine voting to leave, she said: "I could imagine voting all sorts of things. That doesn't mean I will."

Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn said: "David Cameron is now waking up to the huge risks of stumbling out of the EU rather than posturing to try and keep his backbench MPs happy.

"Labour has consistently said that in an increasingly interconnected world Britain should be leading from inside Europe, not watching from the outside as others take decisions that affect jobs, growth, investment and our security without having a voice at the table."

Former chancellor Lord Lawson, president of the Conservatives for Britain group, said: " It is disappointing that David Cameron is resorting to talking down Britain's chances of getting a good deal outside the EU.

"The Government is clearly worried because their EU negotiations do not seem to be going very well.

"Many countries around the world and in Europe have a free trade deal with the EU without being subject to the supremacy of EU law. I believe that Britain can do the same.

"The Prime Minister should stop talking Britain down and pretending that the British people have no choice but to accept the supremacy of EU law. If we vote to leave, we can have a new UK-EU deal based on free trade without having to accept the supremacy of EU law."

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