British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday (28 October) launched his most open defence to date of Britain remaining in the European Union, telling Eurosceptics that EU-outsider Norway was no model to emulate.
Speaking in parliament ahead of a trip to Iceland where he is expected to make the same point, Cameron said he would “guide very strongly against” seeing Britain’s European future being akin to that of Norway, a successful economy that exists closely with but outside the bloc.
“Some people arguing for Britain to leave the European Union … have particularly pointed to the position of Norway saying that is a good outcome, Cameron said.
“Norway actually pays as much per head to the EU as we do, they actually take twice as many per head migrants as we do in this country but of course they have no seat at the table, no ability to negotiate.”
Norway has rejected EU membership in referendums twice. Along with Iceland and Lichtenstein it has a European Economic Area agreement that gives it access to the bloc’s single market.
But in exchange it accepts the EU’s principles of freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and people as well as rules governing, among other things, employment law and competition. It also contributes hundreds of millions of euros to the EU budget.
Cameron had until Wednesday avoided addressing the arguments for and against EU membership, an issue that will be put to a referendum by the end of 2017. But with opinion polls showing a narrowing of support for the bloc versus leaving, he stepped up the pressure to take on the Eurosceptics directly.
The British leader is seeking to renegotiate terms of Britain’s EU membership and says he wants to stay in a reformed EU. However, he rules nothing out if he cannot get change on matters such as restricting EU migrants access to welfare payments.
Cameron was later due to travel to a Northern Future Forum in Iceland, attended by the leaders of Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, at which he will discuss his EU reform plans.
Change of tack
Campaigners for leaving the EU said Cameron’s change of tack showed the government was worried the renegotiation was going badly.
“It is disappointing that David Cameron is resorting to talking down Britain’s chances of getting a good deal outside the EU,” said Nigel Lawson, former finance minister under Margaret Thatcher and president of the “out” group Conservatives for Britain.
“The government is clearly worried because their EU negotiations do not seem to be going very well.”
Pro-Europe group Britain Stronger in Europe said, however, that the lack of alternatives showed Britain was better off in the bloc.
“One by one, the alternatives to Britain’s EU membership are falling apart. We’d still pay but would lose our say over many rules, including free movement,” the group’s executive director, Will Straw, said in a statement.
“The real challenge to those who want Britain to walk away from Europe must be: what does their vision of ‘out’ really look like?”
Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union. The renegotiation will be followed by a referendum by the end of 2017, to decide whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the EU.
If he achieves the reforms, Cameron will campaign to stay in. Otherwise, the Conservatives might campaign to leave the EU. This decision could have far-reaching consequences for trade, investment and Great Britain's position on the international scene.
Some European countries are ready to listen to Cameron's concerns on issues such as immigration, and may be prepared to make limited concessions to keep Britain in the bloc.
But EU leaders also have their red lines, and have ruled out changing fundamental EU principles, such as the free movement of workers, and a ban on discriminating between workers from different EU states.
>>Read our LinksDossier: The UK's EU referendum: On the path to Brexit?