The Norway Option — Some bookmarks

The Norway Option will keep appearing in the EU referendum debate so here are some useful links explaining what it’s all about.

What is the Norway Option?

The Norway Option is a move whereby the UK gives up EU membership by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and moves to a position in the European Economic Area which essentially only participates in the single market and therefore the four freedoms of movement, goods, capital and people but is not engaged in political union. EEA countries are Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, but as Norway is the biggest country in the group, any proposed shift by the UK to this position gets labelled as The Norway Option.

In order to join the EEA, the UK would probably first join EFTA (of which Switzerland is also a member) although that particular move depends on Brexit negotiations.

A quick comparison of the Norway Option and Britain’s current EU membership:

Why the Norway Option? The global context

Who is advocating the Norway Option?

The literal answer is no one.

At least not as a final destination. Brexit must be seen as a “journey out”, just as the last 40 years have been a journey in. Indeed one can’t say how the EU has taken over this country in the space of 40 years with 30%-80% of laws “coming from Brussels” yet in the next breath claim that we can leave in double-quick time.

The Norway Option is a mechanism for stepping out of EU membership in a measured, low-risk way.

Having stated that caveat, the leading voice on this option is ex-minister Owen Paterson MP and much research has been carried out on this option, led by Dr Richard North at Although it must be said that for these Brexiteers, the Norway Option is still only one of three possible options for reaching the same first milestone after Brexit, namely a single market relationship and disengaging from political union.

Full transcript of Paterson’s speech on the UK and the EU in 2014 is here:

Video of Paterson’s 2014 speech is here:

“Norway has no influence over the rules”

This theme started in February 2001 when the then prime minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg (who was still trying to get his fellow countrymen to join the EU) coined the phrase “fax democracy”. It suggested that Norwegian government officials sit by a fax machine all day waiting for the latest rules and regulations to arrive from Brussels.

It was taken up by British Europhiles (and Norwegian ones) and is still trotted out to this day despite the world having moved on. Norway’s own senior Europhiles, with their own pro-EU agenda, remain vocal in opposition (e.g. and )

The ‘No influence’ theme is addressed by Brexiteers commenting on the Norway Option’s global context (see above) but here is some further reading:

“Norway has to adopt 75% of all EU rules.” This is a complete myth unravelled by Dr Richard North here (it’s actually 21%, much of which is single market standards set globally):

Impact on Norway of EEA membership

Report for the Norway parliament:

On Norway not implementing EU rules:

Norway’s Centre Party speaks:

How much EU law applies to Norway/EEA countries…?

How the argument on the Norway Option plays out

A good analysis of an EUphile/Brexiteer debate on this point:


A summary of the EUphile arguments about Norway and a rebuttal of each:

The Bruges Group’s Robert Oulds vs Business for a New Europe’s Lucy Thomas:

Making Trade Agreements with Non-EU countries

Civitas view that also describes the position of Switzerland which, in this regard, is very similar to Norway outside the EU.

Costs of the Norway Option

On the costs of the Norway Option; what will our contributions to the EU be by adopting this model:

The historic perspective and the longer term

A look back on some history and where we should be heading beyond the Norway Option:

Limits of the Norway Option

  1. The ‘No influence’ lie is dug in

The ‘No influence’ theme has now circumnavigated the globe so many times that the truth may conclude it’s barely worth putting its boots on at all. Euroscepticism completely failed in the years after 2001 to understand and properly lance the growing theme. It’s now everywhere, even parroted by people who barely have any interest in the EU debate. And of course the BBC regularly passes it off as a nagging inconvenient fact.

Consequently the Remain campaign is now using it.

Oct 2015: The false BSE campaign poster when challenging the main Leave campaigns over the Norway Option.

This mini-campaign included an article from senior Norwegian Mr Espen Barth Eide pitching in with a supportive article (

Eide has past form on this front and has been challenged by Brexiteer Dr Richard North ( ;

Rather disturbingly, both Leave campaigns have again allowed this one to pass by simply saying they reject the Norway Option.

And so the lie has booked itself on another round-the-world trip.

2. Norwegian EUphiles

Pro-EU politicians in Norway continue to toe the pro-EU line on the Norway Option and no doubt such politicians will be wheeled out by the Remain campaign to argue against it. The Remain camp will use the authority of such figures to sow doubt in the minds of British voters, and that is a threat to Leave campaigners who will need alternative voices from Norwegian politics as well as facts from the Norway parliament’s own reports on this subject. Some alternative voices from Norway and the EEA are here:

Leader of Norway’s Centre Party urges Britain to leave and join Norway on the outside (24th January 2016):

EEA member Iceland is in a very similar position to Norway vis-a-vis the EU

3. Migration

One of the biggest objections to the Norway Option for some Brexiteers is that it means continued freedom of movement, and therefore apparently does not address what they see as a core issue.

There are several levels of answer to this point:

  • The Norway Option is proposed as a first step out of the EU, it is not the end destination (which is restored independence, engaged in a global single market). And if you accept that Brexit is a journey out and not a one-time event, you also accept that unravelling our EU membership will take time, as even Nigel Farage now seems to accept . It’s a short step from there to accepting there may be no quick fix to migration…at least not to the extent you may be expecting.
  • There are things the UK can do about migration now, today, even within the EU treaties (and the EEA). But the British government chooses not to.
  • Norway and other EEA members have a right (the so-called ‘emergency brake’) to unilaterally suspend free movement in social or economic emergencies — a right that Britain as a full EU member does not have.
  • Contrary to UKIP’s belief, leaving the EU will not, per se, solve the immigration issue.

And finally, some of us Brexiteers are more relaxed and liberal about immigration and recognise its benefits. For us, the migration issue is about Britain regaining the power to control its borders, not necessarily exerting that power once power is regained — that is a secondary debate.

More on the Norway Option and the immigration dimension here:

3. The pseudo-Norway Option

A bigger issue is that it is entirely possible the Norway Option will appear closed off as a result of a British Government maneouvre towards “associate membership” — a form of membership that starts looking closer to an EEA-type position but crucially inside the EU. Such a position would undoubtedly be sold to the pro-EU Norwegian political establishment as well (although history suggests the Norwegian people would still reject further EU entanglement).

The British government may try to sell this to the British people as “our very own ‘Norway Option’ but inside the EU influencing the rules”.

The antidote to this is to maintain focus on the ‘Go Global’ context for which the Norway Option is merely a stepping stone. A pseudo-Norway Option inside the EU with second class status — a leashed hinterland — would not achieve that.

Indeed even the language of “the Norway Option” may need to move on. The idea has been mooted here:

The other point is that, even among those who see the Norway Option’s undoubted value, it is still one of three options that could act as a stepping stone out of the EU as part of a long process of disentanglement that gives the UK its full voice in the world and enables long-overdue democratic reforms in the UK. The other two options (without going into them here) are “the Shadow EEA” option and the “Australian Process” option, both of which would lead to a similar high level outcome to the Norway Option —a low risk disengagement from EU membership and political union while maintaining full market access.

Further reading

“Flexcit”, also known as “The Market Solution” or TMS, is a plan for leaving the EU

Extract from “Flexcit”

The short version of Flexcit: