A Norway-style transitional deal that keeps the UK in the European Economic Area would be the “worst of possible worlds”, David Davis has said, as MPs prepared to debate the first major piece of Brexit legislation of the parliament.
Speaking at Brexit questions in the Commons before the debate on the EU withdrawal bill on Thursday afternoon, Davis said the government had considered the benefits of retaining membership of the European Free Trade Association.
“The simple truth is membership of Efta would keep us within the acquis [EU law] and it would keep us in requirements for free movement, albeit with some restrictions but none have worked so far,” he said.
“In many ways it’s the worst of possible worlds. We did consider it, maybe as an interim measure. But it would be more complicated and less beneficial.”
Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are members of Efta with varying relationships, which allows full access to the single market but means acceptance of some, though not all, EU law and regulation, without voting rights.
Labour’s Keir Starmer has said his party backed full participation in the single market and customs union during a transitional period that could last between two and four years after the day of departure, which would mean continuing to pay into the EU budget and accept freedom of movement.
During the debate, Davis said he believed the European commission was open to the “mutual benefits” of a transitional deal after March 2019, when the UK formally quits the bloc, in order to avoid a cliff edge.
“I believe the benefits of a transitional arrangement are both ways – they apply to France, Holland … as they do for us,” he told the Commons.
“That’s the readback we have been getting; we’ve found the commission is open to the idea of transition, we’ve only raised it briefly because it doesn’t fit with the four parts of the negotiation, but I think there’s a very good prospect.”
Although Davis ruled out membership of Efta, he said the government was seeking “a transition based on maintaining the important components of what we currently have is the best way to do it”.
Replying to a question from Labour’s Hilary Benn, who asked if the UK would pay into the EU budget during transition, Davis did not rule out the possibility.
“I think this must be the 20th time I have said I am not going to negotiate from the dispatch box,” he said. “The transitional period … is there for one purpose, to ensure we avoid a cliff-edge. It is not just the UK that has come to this conclusion but also the other members of the EU but one of the things we have been doing for six to nine months is showing how beneficial to them a transition would be.”
Labour MP Chris Bryant, a supporter of the pro-Europe Open Britain campaign, said Davis was running out of options. “David Davis is very good at taking options off the table, but doesn’t seem to bother putting any options on the table,” he said.
“The idea that he can rule out every possible transitional arrangement except for a yet-to-be-defined bespoke arrangement is mad, given that the talks are stuck in the mud and we have just a year left before the final Brexit deal must be finalised. To protect jobs and our economy, the only transitional option the government should be looking at is keeping Britain in the single market and the customs union.”
Transitional deal that keeps UK in EEA is ‘worst of possible worlds’, says Davis – The Guardian