European Free Trade Association — [Mike Gapes in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:39 am on 7th February 2018.

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Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 10:39 am, 7th February 2018

Well, they might be. I think there is a range of opinion out there about it; I have spoken to a number of different people with different views. The hon. Member for Wimbledon said that he had spoken to the ambassador and the professor himself. I note the comments of the Norwegian Prime Minister in August last year, when she said that the UK joining EFTA, even for a temporary period, would be a “challenging and costly” undertaking. Again, those concerns are not insurmountable, but we need to grapple with how realistic this option is and, in particular, with whether EFTA’s institutions—especially its court—could cope with the volume of cases that would land in them if the UK was to join EFTA.

All of that speaks to a wider point, which is that the four EFTA economies are very different from the UK economy. The size of the EFTA countries and the nature of their economies make UK membership of EFTA a challenging prospect.

All of that needs to be debated, and it cannot be debated in an hour and a half in Westminster Hall. The EFTA option should not be taken off the table, but there are real reasons why the Labour party believes that a bespoke deal following a transitional arrangement on basic terms should be what we are aiming for, and therefore EEA/EFTA would not be our first preference. However, as I say, the key point is that that option should not be taken off the table. In the end, it is up to Parliament to decide, which is why it is so important that we have a meaningful vote—