The Norwegian government has a delegation ready to launch more formal negotiations over Norway’s looming bilateral relationship with the UK once it leaves the EU. Talks may start soon, even as the UK’s own Brexit negotiations with the EU remain complicated and the result highly unclear.
News bureau NTB reported this week that the UK was due to receive a clear signal that it can start talks with all members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which include non-EU members Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. British officials formally have no right to negotiate with any third parties like Norway as long as the UK formally remains a part of the EU. The British government therefore had to seek special permission from the EU to start talks with new bilateral trading partners while its own exit from the EU is still under discussion.
NTB reported it had been informed by several diplomats that the EU has decided to allow such talks on the grounds the British keep EU officials informed of their progress.
“This is necessary,” one diplomat who asked not to be identified told NTB. “We have no objections as long as the British keep us oriented, because they’re still in the EU and can’t just do what they like.” The approval was expected to be formally given at a ministerial meeting on Tuesday.
Norway has had a delegation in place to start negotiating over policy and trade with Great Britain since before the summer holidays. The delegation includes experts from within Norway’s foreign ministry and other ministries, and it held its first meeting on June 12.
NTB reported that Norway’s major goal is to get an agreement in place that will reflect portions of the UK’s Brexit with the EU that also will be relevant for Norway. Important factors include provisions that will ensure the rights of Norwegians resident in the UK and British citizens resident in Norway. They’ve been living with no small degree of uncertainty since an albeit slim majority of British voters set the Brexit process in motion.
It remains badly bogged down on a number of fronts, with calls rising in the UK to halt the entire process and hold another referendum. Many UK voters want to remain in the EU, but the British government is obligated to continue carrying out the will of the majority on the Brexit vote.
Formal negotiations on trade issues between Norway and the UK are expected to begin later, once the UK and EU work out the terms of their divorce. Norway has, in the meantime, been asserting its own strategy for the years ahead.
Norwegian officials made it clear they don’t want “to run ahead of the EU” on Brexit issues, and will instead wait to see what kind of Brexit agreement ultimately emerges. It’s reportedly more a matter of being prepared for the day when the UK is no longer part of the EU, and thus not covered by all the terms of Norway’s own agreements with the EU.