Brexit Explained | What are the Swiss and Norway Models of Brexit?


No-deal Brexit has been rejected by parliament. Theresa’s May withdrawal agreement and the backstop arrangement have also recently been rejected by parliament. So where does this leave Brexit and what possible options are left? Some phrases you may have heard thrown into the mix are the Swiss and Norway Models for Brexit.

This means leaving the EU and being left in a situation similar to either Switzerland or Norway, who are not members but have different trading relationships with the EU.

Norway Model Brexit

Norway is not a member of the European Union but has full access to the EU single market. This however comes with the agreement on the free movement of labour – people travelling from other EU countries into Norway without restriction to find work. Norway sees this as a positive thing as they depend on workers from European countries for vital services and industries.

They pay €391 million per year for access to the single market.  They have no say on the rules but need to follow them in order to conduct frictionless trade with the EU. They are a rule taker, not a rule maker, unlike the UK as a member of the EU. Ironically, being on the outside of the EU means that Norway actually has less control on the regulations that govern trade within its own country.

Swiss Model Brexit

Many argue that the Swiss model would be the ideal Brexit scenario although the Switzerland method of politics is not as neat and tidy as you would perhaps imagine. For a start they have seven presidents running the country, not just one. Also, their system of “direct democracy” means the public can initiate a referendum on anything they want as long as they can get 50,000 signatures for it. They can overturn laws and frequently get to vote on a range of policies and initiatives, at local and national levels. This could be anything from whether or not a school gets built in the local area, what energy policy your county is going to take, or whether or not you want free movement of labour into your country.

Switzerland is not a member of the EU and decided not to join the European Economic Area in 1992. However 50% of its exports still go to the EU, so obviously they managed to find some kind of way forward.

What Switzerland has is about 120 bilateral trade agreements between themselves and the EU on a range of goods and services. This means that Switzerland has a wealth of experience in setting up trade deals with the EU. So the UK should at least work closely with Switzerland in order to maintain a stronger negotiating position with the EU and to benefit from Switzerland’s expertise and personnel who have worked in this field.

There are negative aspects to the Switzerland model of Brexit however. Similar to Norway, Switzerland must bring in regulatory changes to mirror those made by the EU, in order to be able to keep on trading with them.

Through their system of direct democracy they did in fact vote to stop free movement of people from the EU, although the EU were not particularly happy about it. As a result of which they could find that all 120 of their bilateral trade agreements get torn up if they don’t reach some kind of compromise with the EU. So it can sometimes be a more tenuous position to be on the outside looking in.

You may be bored of Brexit already after 2 years of it being all over the news. To some people the prospect of a further referendum on the subject seems utterly distasteful. But those who support the Swiss Model of Brexit should know that under the Swiss system they took 60 years to decide the country’s policy on maternity leave and had 6 referendums on this subject alone.

Elliot Margison @PendleLibDems

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