+44 (0)20 7799 6677

Norway’s relationship with the EU provides credible model for Britain

  • Flourishing non-member Norway enjoys tariff-free trade with Europe as well as political independence
  • Withdrawing to the European Economic Area would cost UK less while maintaining significant influence over EU legislation
  • Norway has powers to suspend free movement of labour and negotiate individual trade deals on leading exports

Withdrawing from the EU but remaining part of the European Economic Area (EEA) free trade zone is a realistic objective that could provide the best of both worlds for Britain.

A new Civitas paper argues that the position of Norway – outside the EU but inside the EEA – provides a model which should be seriously considered as an attractive alternative to full UK membership.

It would allow British firms to trade tariff-free within the EU while regaining the UK’s political independence from Brussels.

Research fellow Jonathan Lindsell shows how Norway also remains engaged with Europe and maintains influence on EU legislation from the outside – exploding David Cameron’s claim that the country has “no say” in Brussels affairs.

In a detailed study of Norway’s arrangements as a member of the EEA but not the EU, Lindsell describes how:

  • Norway has a strong track record of influencing EU legislation, being involved in EU legislation through the early drafting stages and contributing to the final outcome. Britain, were it to be in Norway’s position, would almost certainly have more influence still, as a larger economy with a closer history to the EU;
  • Norway, as a member of the EEA, has a veto for blocking EU rules on specific products or services without suspending the entire agreement. Norway is also able to fight for exemptions or adaptations without recourse to this veto;
  • Norway has the power, if the necessity arose, to suspend the free movement of labour in emergencies. Although it has not been tested, as Norway seeks to deal more effectively with the social and economic pressures, this provision is contained under the terms of the EEA to address serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that arise from free movement;
  • Many flagship Norwegian seafood products have preferential or tariff-free access to EU markets despite the country having rejected the Common Fisheries Policy and Common Agricultural Policy;
  • Norway remains active in many of the EU’s cooperative activities such as scientific projects, health and food safety, and police training. Because these areas are not featured in the terms of the EEA Norway cannot be forced to take part, but it participates according to its own best interests;
  • Norway pays considerably less into the EU budget than member states. Compared with the UK it pays £22 per capita less, equivalent to £1.68 billion for the British population as a whole.

Jonathan Lindsell says: “The Norwegian approach to the European Union offers a genuine alternative to consider. Many of the criticisms levelled against Norway’s position are wide of the mark.

“The Norwegian option retains all the trade advantages of EU membership while offering avenues for increased prosperity through trading around the world.

“It could function as an off-the-shelf, hiatus-free stepping stone to more ambitious, but more trickily negotiated, EU relationships.

“It would meet demands for free trade with the EU, succinct negotiations, serious economic clout, access to skilled labour, regulatory flexibility. It would allow Britain to continue to work with the EU in co-operative bodies to fight terror, crime and disease. It shows a strategy for fixing the difficulties of large scale immigration.

“Clearest of all, it offers an array of methods for Britain to contribute to legislation that might affect the country, avoid rules that should not, and exercise full sovereignty through the veto if matters come to a head.”


‘The Norwegian Way: A case study for Britain’s future relationship with the EU’ is published on Friday February 13. It can be accessed below.

Jonathan Lindsell joined Civitas in 2013 as EU research fellow after reading history at Trinity College, Oxford. His other reports include Softening the Blow: Who gains from the EU and how they can survive Brexit.


The Norwegian Way: A case study for Britain's future relationship with the EU

Download Associated PDF


Keep up-to-date with all of our latest publications

Sign Up Here