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Brexplainer: What is a Norway-style deal - and what could it mean for Northern Ireland?

DUP leader Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster has rubbished the Prime Minister’s Brexit withdrawal plan - but has suggested that her party may back a Norway-style deal.

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So what is a Norway-style deal?

The Norway-plus approach is being championed by Nick Boles, a former minister close to Michael Gove, who can’t support it while May’s deal is still in play, but would probably push Norway once it is dead. So would Amber Rudd, an important player now she is back in the cabinet. Hammond’s words suggest he would too.

Norway-plus would deliver the “frictionless trade” that May failed to win. The UK would leave the common agricultural and fisheries policies and the remit of the European Court of Justice. The Efta court is less interfering. Budget contributions would be small compared with EU membership.

The EEA option would almost certainly win the EU’s backing, another pre-requisite. Under the Boles plan, it would take effect when the “status quo” transition period ends in December 2020.

It would prevent a hard Irish border, while Northern Ireland would have the same rules as the rest of the UK – removing the Democratic Unionist Party’s main objection to May’s deal, which is shared by many Tories. The Scottish National Party and Liberal Democrats would likely buy it. The Labour leadership is cautious for now, as it wants to propose its own plan. But many Labour backbenchers would back EEA membership; 75 did so in a Commons vote in June.

Norway-plus has downsides. The UK would have to retain free movement. Although the EEA allows members to apply an emergency brake in response to economic or social pressures, it is doubtful the UK would qualify.

The UK would be a rule-taker, not a rule-maker, and a customs union would hinder trade deals with other countries. Both would be hard for Eurosceptics to swallow. But some might live with Norway as a staging post to a much looser Canada-style agreement, though Boles has stopped calling his plan “Norway to Canada”.

It’s unclear whether May could steer the UK in Norway’s direction. She would have to abandon her free movement red line. She might not even get the chance.

It is true that Norway-plus might appeal to MPs reluctant to vote for another referendum. But arguably, as May claimed in Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, it would not implement the 2016 referendum because the UK would have to follow the rules without shaping them. As Svein Roald Hansen, a Norwegian Labour MP, told the BBC: “If I were British, I would prefer to stay in the EU and have a say on the decisions.”

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