An anti-Brexit demonstrator wears a pro European Union (EU) badge in London, U.K. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Tories Propose Norway-Style Bridge to Canada-Style Brexit

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has come under fresh fire, this time from a senior lawmaker in her own party who opposes a hard departure from the European Union.

Most of the criticism of May’s cabinet-backed “Chequers Plan” has come from Conservatives linked to the European Research Group, which seeks maximum distance from the EU and is pushing for an exit without a deal. They have rallied behind Boris Johnson, who withdrew his backing for May’s plan and quit as Foreign Secretary. As the clock ticks on Brexit talks, options for a Brexit deal May can get through Parliament appear to be vanishing.

Tories Propose Norway-Style Bridge to Canada-Style Brexit

The prime minister now finds herself taking fire from her other flank. On Sunday Nick Boles, a former minister who previously was loyal to May, said he couldn’t support the “humiliation” of the path she is taking, which he believes will end with the EU dictating Britain’s terms of departure.

His proposed “Better Brexit” alternative would see Britain abandon its current negotiation and instead attempt to continue membership of the European Economic Area from March 29, 2019, applying to become an associate member of the European Free Trade Association. This would give Britain a trading relationship with the EU similar to Norway’s. Boles then suggests using that position of safety to negotiate a long-term agreement with the EU that would be closer to Canada’s.

Boles insisted his plan wasn’t part of a move to get rid of May, but rather to find a Brexit path that the divided Conservative Party could unite behind. Although he acknowledged that ERG members would smell a trap to keep Britain tied to the EU forever, he pointed out that this style of departure had originally been proposed by Brexiteers.

“This is an interim soft Brexit in order to be able to achieve a hard Brexit,” Boles said in an interview. “If you’re a proper ERG supporter, you should find this appealing. It’s much more likely to get through Parliament than ‘No Deal.”’

He insisted he wasn’t trying to stop Brexit: “We can do it in a sane way without shooting our foot off.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.