These Conservative rebels believe support for a Norway-style soft Brexit is at a tipping point

YouTube/Colchester ConservativesStephen Hammond MP.
  • Conservative rebel MPs claim more and more Tories are ready to join them and back a soft Brexit.
  • 13 Tory MPs signed an amendment calling on Theresa May to pursue a Norway-style Brexit which effectively keep Britain in the single market via the European Economic Area.
  • A leading rebel has told Business Insider that more Conservative MPs will get on board before the vote next week.
  • A fight is underway within the Labour Party over whether Corbyn should embrace the EEA.

LONDON – Conservative rebels believe that support among the party’s MPs for a Norway-style soft Brexit could be at a tipping point as moderates grow increasingly alarmed at the state of Brexit negotiations.

On Tuesday MPs will vote on an amendment to the Withdrawal Bill which, if passed, would instruct Theresa May to pursue a soft form of Brexit known as the Norway model, plus 14 other amendments.

This would involve the UK leaving the European Union but keeping full access to the single market by joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which is a non-EU member state’s ticket to joining the EEA.

On Monday Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn dealt a blow to pro-EEA movement when he confirmed that he does not support the Norway model and would instruct Labour MPs to abstain from the vote.

This triggered furious reactions from pro-EU Labour MPs. Former shadow frontbenchers Chuka Umunna and Owen Smith plus others publicly criticised the move. One MP told BI it amounted to “madness” and “a complete Horlicks.”

However, fresh life was breathed into the cross-party effort on Wednesday, when 13 Conservative MPs signed an amendment to the upcoming trade bill, which instructs May to keep Britain in the EEA via EFTA.

Anna Soubry Nicky MorganChris J Ratcliffe/Getty ImagesAnna Soubry and Nicky Morgan

Tory MPs backing the new EEA amendment

  • Stephen Hammond
  • Mr Dominic Grieve
  • Nicky Morgan
  • Antoinette Sandbach
  • Bob Neill
  • Anna Soubry
  • Dame Caroline Spelman
  • Jonathan Djanogly
  • Kenneth Clarke
  • Heidi Allen
  • Paul Masterton
  • Dr Sarah Wollaston
  • John Stevenson

The Tory amendment, tabled by Stephen Hammond MP, was signed by the usual Brexit rebels, but also by a new name in Caroline Spelman, the MP for Meriden. A rebel whose signature is on the amendment told Business Insider that the group has reason to believe more names will come forward prior to the vote on Tuesday.

“An increasing number of colleagues are warming to the EFTA-EEA model on the simple basis that time is running out and we need something there and ready,” the MP – who wished to remain anonymous – told BI.

They added that a “new group” of Conservative MPs have formed in recent weeks, which is ready to work with Hammond, Anna Soubry and other Tory rebels in pushing for a soft Brexit. This faction contains MPs who are alarmed by the current state of Brexit negotiations, and are willing to vote for the EEA amendment on the basis that the Norway option could be used as a transitional model to smoothen Britain’s exit, the MP told BI.

“They tell us that we entered the European Union via the EEA, so why can’t we exit via the EEA?”

Labour MP Umunna also hinted at more Tory MPs getting on board with the EEA on Tuesday, telling a press conference that the 13 names on the amendment paper “don’t account for those who haven’t gone on record.”

The feeling among rebels is that the amendment still doesn’t have enough support to pass. However, they believe that support is growing, and will at a minimum give the government a bigger scare than initially thought.

A Conservative MP planning to support the EEA amendment next week suggested to BI that the high chance of defeat makes voting for it a “free hit,” meaning Tories have nothing to lose.

Earlier this week, Svein Roald Hansen – the Norwegian Parliament’s delegate to the EFTA and EEA – told BI that it would be “very difficult” to say no to Britain joining the club after it has left the EU.

However, the MP for Norway’s Labour MP said Oslo was concerned that Britain would be an awkward partner and demand opt-outs from the EEA Agreement.

Soubry, the MP for Broxtowe, told BI on Wednesday that Britain must “grow up” and play by the EEA’s rule in order to protect its economic interests. “We’ve done the same with the EU. We wanted opt-outs when we were in, and now we want opt-ins now we’re heading out,” she said.

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