LONDON — Members of Parliament who back a Norway-style exit from the European Union believe that the Labour Party is warming to a "soft" Brexit, and could end up throwing its weight behind it.
This week a handful of MPs who support a Norway-style deal — or "Common Market 2.0" — met with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and a handful of his advisors to discuss the pros and cons of the proposal.
It followed recent meetings between Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and supporters of a Norway-style Brexit.
MPs who back the plan include Conservatives Nick Boles, Oliver Letwin and Robert Halfon, plus Labour’s Stephen Kinnock and Lucy Powell. Ministers like Stephen Hammond have also declared support for it.
Under "Common Market 2.0," the United Kingdom would maintain very close ties with the EU by staying in its single market and effectively replicating the customs union in a new UK-EU customs relationship.
The UK would do so by joining Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein in the European Free Trade Association and European Economic Area. The EU has been clear that this sort of Brexit is on the table should the UK want it.
The Labour leadership previously opposed the model, but with time running out until Brexit day and the spectre of no-deal looming over Westminster, Corbyn and his team are now considering backing the idea.
They are ready to back such an approach Brexit over pushing for a new referendum, despite Corbyn pledging to campaign for a new public vote in an announcement last month, The Independent reported on Friday.
One MP who met with Corbyn’s office this week told BI that they had been expecting a short meeting, but instead had a discussion which lasted well over an hour, with Corbyn taking a strong interest in how it would work.
The Labour leader arrived to the meeting with a copy of the "Common Market 2.0" pamphlet authored by Labour’s Powell and Conservative MP Halfon, which he had "read and understood," attendees said.
MPs who support a Norway-style deal say it is the closest thing to Labour’s "alternative" plan which already exists.
"What this does is put flesh on the bones of [Corbyn’s] letter to Theresa May," one backbench MP who supports it said.
"We do not have time for something bespoke."
During the meeting, Corbyn and his team were broadly positive about the plan, but raised a handful of concerns, particularly that being in the EEA would force the UK to continue with the free movement of people, attendees told BI.
But despite his concerns, MPs who met with Corbyn left feeling encouraged that they might soon have his support.
They believe that if Labour was to whip in favour of a Norway-style Brexit amendment next week, around 240 MPs would vote for it, including a significant number of Conservative MPs, including 10 government ministers.
That clearly wouldn’t be enough. However, they believe that this number would grow as Parliament runs out of other viable options and time to avert a widely-dreaded no-deal departure.
"We need the dominoes to fall," one Labour MP who supports the plan told BI this week.
"May’s deal falls, the Kyle-Wilson amendment falls [which pushes for a new referendum], no-deal falls, MPs go for a Brexit delay. Then we have to decide when to fire the bullet."
Some MPs in the Norway camp want to table an amendment next week which legislates for this sort of Brexit.
It would be an amendment to the motion scheduled for March 14, which calls for Theresa May to extend the Article 50 withdrawal process and delay Brexit if her deal with the EU is voted down again.
But other MPs involved in the plan believe that a better idea would be to table an amendment which lets MPs hold indicative votes on a number of options, including a Norway-style Brexit, during the Article 50 extension.
Labour MPs who support the plan are also trying to convey to Corbyn the political value in backing it. They believe that by winning the support dozens of Tories, it would effectively split the Conservatives in two.
"It would be like sticking a hand grenade in the Conservative Party," one Labour MP said.
The Conservative split could be even more severe if May was forced to adopt the plan as her official Brexit strategy.
The MP added: "Forcing a referendum would split us [Labour.]
"Failing to do so would make some people angry but would not lead to a fundamental split.
"But the impact of the prime minister having to destroy her red lines and being led from the backseat by Labour would completely change the game on Brexit."
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