Norway has suddenly become very fashionable in Parliament. So much so that some MPs want the UK Parliament to vote to be like Norway when the European Union (withdrawal) Bill reaches its final stages this week.
This Brexit Bill transfers EU laws to UK control.
Most of this is not controversial, just common sense - so after Brexit, businesses know where they stand.
That, after all, has to be one outcome of the Brexit divorce.
Like the Lords, the Commons is, maybe, not as interested in the main purpose of the Bill as it is in the Brussels negotiations between Davis and Barnier.
The Brexit “deal” gets the real attention in this week’s debates.
I’ve no time for Brexiteers who say we should threaten to walk away without a deal
Chaos after Brexit certainly won’t protect jobs in my Yorkshire constituency.
But one Lords amendment tries to mandate the Government to seek to join the European Economic Area (don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it).
If they have their way, unless the PM commits to the Norway/EEA option, none of the Bill we’ve discussed for 11 months comes into force.
Labour’s frontbench has not gone along with this.
Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer has tabled an amendment that removes this demand.
So what’s going on? Some MPs and peers don’t want the UK to leave the EU.
Liberal Democrat MPs will try to force a second referendum, which will be soundly defeated.
Others want the Norway option – the EEA – an arrangement set up in 1994 for Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein that weren’t in the EU.
Three countries with a combined population of less than six million.
The Norwegian people voted No to EU membership in their own 1994 referendum.
Europe’s skilfully created “workaround” was the EEA so Norway could be an EU member, while not being a member.
It abides by all the rules and regulations of the EU as if it were a member.
But it doesn’t get any votes, like a nonmember.
Norway signs up to the core principles of the single market, including free movement, and agrees to approve every new rule imposed by the EU, without a vote on it.
No wonder it’s described as a “ruletaker” not a “rulemaker”.
Supporters of this idea claim EEa countries can control migration.
Worried about immigration, Liechtenstein (pop. 37,000) needed a protection, called the Liechtenstein solution, an “emergency brake”. If ever used it would allow a temporary stop on free movement.
It does not allow a country to manage migration with a visa system as the UK does for the rest of the world. The EEa is secondclass EU membership and I’m opposed to it.
It would be Brexit in name only.
The British people didn’t vote for that.
Indeed remain campaigners (myself included) warned during the EU referendum that the Norway option was the opposite of regaining control.
Starter’s amendment steers a middle course between the “hard Brexit, no dealers” on the Tory benches and the “let’s find a backdoor to stay in the EU” MPs.
It accepts that the signing up to the EEA and a commitment to open door migration is not acceptable.
The amendment is not perfect, nor as explicit on issues like managing migration as some Labour MPs would like.
Crucially it accepts that the UK is leaving, seeks a good trading relationship with the EU and allows the UK to make use of the agencies we still want a voice in, such as the European Medicines agency and European aviation Safety agency.
I hope Labour MPs unite around the amendment.
But I cannot understand why the front bench, having tabled an amendment to delete the Lords EEA proposal, would whip Labour MPs to abstain on that Lords EEA amendment if it comes to a vote.
I could not justify this to my constituents and I’m not alone.
The frontbench should follow the logic of its amendment and vote the Lords proposal down.
As for the Government, Theresa May could have tried to unite the parties in the national interest.
As it is, she cannot even unite her Government.
Cabinet ministers appear to be going out of their way to embarrass her.
Together, Tory divisions and Lords’ parliamentary tactics risk undermining the UK’s efforts to get a practical, fair Brexit deal.
Parliament would be unwise to send a signal to Michel Barnier to demand the impossible from Britain. A workable deal will benefit both sides.
Let’s get on with the job.
This article was first published in The Sunday Express on Sunday 10 June 2018.