Nicola Sturgeon's "Norway-style" plan to keep Scotland in the single market while remaining part of the UK is impossible, senior Norwegian politicians have told BuzzFeed News.
Scotland's first minister has proposed the "Norway option" to keep Scotland in the single market post-Brexit, which would mean joining a small group of non-EU nations known as the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
Norway is part of EFTA and the European Economic Area (EEA), and a member of the European single market. The Scottish government set out its plan to copy that model to gain "full or associate membership of EFTA and subsequently the EEA agreement" outside of the EU.
However, the head of the Norwegian parliament's EFTA and EEA delegation told BuzzFeed News Scotland would have to become an independent country before it could sign up to EFTA and subsequently gain single market membership through the EEA.
Svein Roald Hansen, who has led the Norwegian delegation to EFTA since 2013, said he had sympathy with Scotland's position after last June's vote to leave the EU but that he couldn't see how it could join EFTA while remaining inside the UK.
"To enter the EEA agreements, they have to be either be a member of the EU like they are today or a member of EFTA," said Hansen. "If they were to become members of EFTA, they would first have to break free from the UK."
He added: "If the UK is out of the EU and they negotiate free trade agreements with other countries, that would presumably be applied to Scotland. Scotland can’t have agreements as part of the UK and other agreements as part of EFTA."
The deputy leader of the Norwegian parliament's foreign affairs committee, Øyvind Halleraker, told BuzzFeed News he also struggled to see how Scotland could be inside the single market and the UK if there is to be a so-called "hard Brexit".
"We have this EEA agreement, we have to follow all the directives – except on agriculture and fisheries – but everything else is taken into Norwegian law without much discussion," said Halleraker.
Asked if Scotland could be part of the EEA and the UK, he added: "As an EEA member we are an independent country and everything has to be taken into your legislation. You have to be a free country."
A spokesperson for the secretary general of EFTA refused to comment on whether Scotland could become a member inside the UK, but pointed BuzzFeed News towards the EFTA convention that says new members must be "states".
It reads: "Any state may accede to the convention provided that the EFTA council decides to approve its accession. As regards further formal requirements, any new member state would have to apply to become a party to existing EFTA free trade agreements."
In its paper released in December, the Scottish government conceded it would have to receive "some form of sponsorship" from the UK government if it was to join EFTA and remain in the UK at the same time, and highlighted the Faroe Islands as a precedent.
"It should be pointed out ... that the Faroe Islands, not an independent state, is currently exploring the possibility of joining EFTA – a possibility that is under consideration," the paper reads. "It is envisaged that Denmark would 'sponsor' the Faroe Islands membership of EFTA.
"This shows that a sub-state may enter into international agreements. In similar circumstances, and with its own legal system and strong administrative capabilities, Scotland would be well placed to meet those requirements."
However, Hansen said there was never any prospect of the Faroe Islands joining the EEA and the single market – it was just being considered for membership of EFTA.
"The EFTA agreement says the organisation is open for 'states', so the question is: Is Scotland 'a state'?" said Hansen. "If it should become member of the EEA (and EFTA), Scotland must have sovereignty over all the laws which will be affected by the rules in the EU market.
"It is right the Faroes some years ago had a discussion about being member of EFTA and Denmark said that would be OK, but the Faroe Islands could not be member of EEA."
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Brexit is unprecedented and so calls for unprecedented solutions, some of which may – as we have openly acknowledged – be complex and challenging.
“The detailed proposals we published last month are designed to keep Scotland in the European single market even if the rest of the UK leaves – which is absolutely essential for Scottish jobs, investment and long-term economic wellbeing.
“This is the first, and only, detailed plan for Brexit to be published by any government in the UK, and the prime minister has pledged to give our proposals serious consideration.”
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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