Telling the truth in politics is, sadly, not as simple as it should be. Political parties regularly exaggerate claims during election campaigns. We raise an eyebrow but we understand.
When it comes to Brexit policy, the Government is apparently crossing a line. It has launched a social media campaign, #RoadtoBrexit, and there is a good argument that it breaches both Government Communications Service and Advertising Standards Association rules on accuracy and impartiality. Given that we, as taxpayers, are paying for it, this is pretty outrageous — and I write as someone who sympathises with implementing Brexit rationally.
For instance, one video featuring the Prime Minister claims that the deal Norway has with the EU wouldn’t deliver Brexit because “Norway is in the customs union” and we would have to pay “vast sums into the EU”. Neither of these points is correct.
The untruths about the so-called Norway option are particularly galling because it is an alternative Brexit route which, unlike other plans, already exists and works. We are signatories to the relevant treaty and it delivers Brexit by providing tariff-free access to the single market but also giving back control over our borders, money, laws and — because it is outside the customs union — our trade policy. We could sign our own free trade deals (as Norway has done).
We’d have to sign up to free movement of workers, but British passports would return and there are numerous opt-outs and limitations we could adopt. And we’d be outside the common agricultural policy and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
It has cross-party support. Nick Boles, the centrist Tory MP for Grantham, has launched a campaign called Better Brexit to advocate a “Norway for Now” and Stephen Kinnock, the Labour MP for Aberavon is a fan. Polling by Opinium shows that, when explained, the Norway option is the most popular Brexit plan. Certainly, it is the most economically attractive.
It works like this. We are already contracting parties to the European Economic Area Agreement, which promotes commercial ties and market access between the EU and the four members of the European Free Trade Association (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein). In order for the treaty to remain operative, all we have to do is apply to join EFTA.
At a stroke, Brexit would be solved and put on a sound legal, economic and diplomatic footing. If we found it too restrictive we could move into a looser Canada-style free trade agreement.
So why have ministers removed it from the table by spreading disinformation? Most likely to create another false narrative, that it is Chequers or no deal. Well, that isn’t true. There is a working Brexit Plan B sitting on the shelf, if only the Government would admit it.
- George Trefgarne is author of Norway then Canada, a New Strategy to avoid a Brexit Smash