Norway tells Britain: no Brexit 'silver bullet' over single market access

Norwegian foreign minister Børge Brende to meet Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox for talks over post-EU future

Norway’s foreign minister Børge Brende

Børge Brende: ‘There has been a consensus in Norway that it is in our interest to be a part of the single market.’
Photograph: Mark R. Cristino/EPA

Britain must understand that there is no “silver bullet” over Brexit that would permit single market access without paying into the EU and being bound by some of its rules, Norway’s foreign minister has warned ahead of a meeting in London.

Børge Brende, who was due to meet his UK counterpart, Boris Johnson, on Monday, as well as the Brexit secretary, David Davis, and the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, said his country’s model of access to the single market without being part of the EU was seen there as a success.

This did not mean it would necessarily work as well for the UK, Brende told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We were very clear that there is no silver bullet in this context,” he said. “Being a part of the single market, as we are, also means to implement all directives, and we are not in the room when these directives are decided on.

“But there has been a consensus around this in Norway that it is in our interest to be a part of the single market, and that is what we have to contribute. On top of this we also do funding for countries in the EU that are the new members, but also those that are facing the biggest challenges when it comes to development.

Asked if the single market choice facing Britain was the same – to have more control or to be richer – Brende said Norway’s access to the single market since 1992 “had served our country well”, with 70% of its exports going to the EU.

He said: “Formally, you’re right, that on the directives we have no formal say. That is part of the price that we are paying.”

Brende added: “We have also implemented all the four freedoms,” referring to the single market principles of the free movement across borders of goods, people, services and capital.

Asked if he had any idea yet of the UK government’s plans for Brexit, Brende said only that his talks with Johnson, Davis and Fox would “look at how we can secure a close relationship between the UK and Norway, moving forward”.

But he rejected reports that Norway would resist the UK joining the European Free Trade Association (Efta), which provides four non-EU nations with access to the European Economic Area (EEA) single market.

“If Britain chose to go through an EAA agreement, being a full member of the single market, taking all the directives, contributing to the EU, we have to assess such an interest, he said. ”But so far, I think, your prime minister, Theresa May, has said you’re working along different lines.”

Efta, which groups Norway, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Iceland, is “the only international organisation where Norway is a superpower”, he added.

There has been increased speculation about whether the government might consider paying to secure access to the single market.

Also on Monday, Davis was due to join the chancellor, Philip Hammond, to jointly reassure businesses that they have been working increasingly closely together, amid concerns ministers are split over Brexit strategy.

On Sunday, Johnson, said it was “pure speculation” that the government could pay large sums of money in return for access to the single market. His comments came days after Davis said the government would not rule out the possibility of financial contributions to secure “the best possible access for goods and services”.

The Brexit secretary made the assertion to MPs in the House of Commons, and the idea was reinforced later by Hammond and by Downing Street.

Johnson – who was leading figure in the Vote Leave campaign that suggested Brexit would result in an extra £350m a week available to be spent on the NHS – tried to play down the idea on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show.

“That is obviously something that David Davis is considering but it doesn’t mean a decision has been taken … I am not going to get involved in the minutiae of our negotiating position before we trigger article 50,” he said.

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