It has been a busy and interesting period since a majority of the British people voted to leave the European Union (EU), triggering one of the biggest changes in our continent for a generation.
Understanding the democratic decision, analysing its implications, and planning how to implement it, is an important and complex task. While it inevitably inspires a lot of questions about the future, many of the answers will take time because of the complexity.
The complexity also applies to Norway, which is not a member of the EU or its Customs Union, but is part of the EU Single Market through the European Economic Area (EEA). Norway also has separate agreements with the EU on agriculture and fisheries, and participates in the Schengen arrangements. Some 70 percent of Norway’s trade is with the EU, but the UK is Norway’s largest market, and Norway the UK’s most important energy supplier.
We will need new arrangements with Norway, but we cannot negotiate these whilst the UK is still a member of the EU. The UK both fully honours its obligations, and respects Norway’s. I believe that our track records in honouring the terms of our EU and EEA agreements respectively show each country takes its legal commitments very seriously.
To prepare for this new partnership, and enable a smooth transition, we are expanding the diplomatic dialogue and working together to understand each other’s priorities in order to be as well prepared as possible for the time when we will need to put new arrangements in place.
An important issue is how we provide certainty for the many thousands of Norwegian and British nationals who live on either side of the North Sea, and make such valuable contributions to our respective societies and economies.
Another priority is to minimise disruption for businesses, and provide investors with as much certainty and clarity as soon as we can.
After the fourth round of UK-EU negotiations, which took place shortly after Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech in Florence, the following points are governing British planning for the future:
- The UK’s decision to leave the institutions of the EU was because a majority of voters wanted more control over decisions affecting their lives. It was not a decision to withdraw from Europe, or disengage from the success of our continent. Britain has always, and will always, stand with friends and allies in defence of European security, stability, prosperity, and shared values.
- The UK clearly understands that leaving the EU means that we cannot have all the benefits of membership, without accepting the obligations. Therefore the UK desire to control its immigration and other policies means we will be leaving the EU Single Market.
- For the sake of our continent’s continuing prosperity and progress, the UK is proposing a unique and ambitious economic partnership. The starting point is over four decades of regulatory harmonisation, and a shared commitment to high standards and free trade.
- The UK is the second largest economy in Europe. We will continue to be a major contributor to wealth and innovation. And we want to do so in close partnership with other European countries so that future generations of Europeans can fulfil their dreams and maximise the potential of our continent.
- We will need to negotiate a new framework, and this is likely to be different from any other existing framework – including the EEA agreement.
- Our unconditional commitment to European security remains just as strong. We have proposed a bold new strategic partnership with the EU, including an agreement on security, law enforcement and criminal justice.
- The UK has reassured its EU partners that none of them will have to pay more, or receive less, during the present budget period, and that the UK will honour its commitments made during the period of our EU membership.
- To transition to a new relationship in a smooth and orderly way, the UK has proposed a period of implementation. How long that period is should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes that will underpin our future partnership, but we expect it to last for around two years.
The UK is optimistic about progress achieved so far in its negotiations with the EU, and is confident from being able to build a future as the EU’s strongest friend and partner.
I am every bit as confident that the UK’s future relationship with Norway will be just as strong.
Ms Sarah Gillett CMG CVO began her appointment as Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Norway in July 2014. Ms Gillett joined the FCO in 1976 and has served overseas in the United States of America, France, Brazil, Canada, and most recently as Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein.