Many in the Out camp argue that the UK could follow Norway’s relationship with the EU, but the country and the relationship are totally different. Norway is a successful nation, due to rich natural resources of water and oil. It has saved its oil dividend in a national fund, so, despite falling oil prices, is in a good position to weather the storm. Unemployment is running at about 3.6%, well below the EU average, and its 5.1million population are well educated. It has a AAA rating.
Norway belongs to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA). It exports over 80% of its output to the EU, and imports 64%. Despite the fact that it is not a member of the EU, its net contribution to the EU is £106 per head of population (the UK pays between £128 and £150, depending on whom you speak to). It has adopted 1369 out of the1965 European Directives. That is the price it pays to keep its export market and trading links with the EU. Post BREXIT, the UK, even if the EFTA members accepted us as a member, would be in the same position, perhaps more so.
So if they already pay so much and obey so many directives, why doesn’t Norway join the EU? Their very close neighbours Sweden and Denmark did. The reason is history which has shaped the Norwegian psyche. In two referenda, in 1972 and 1994, Norway rejected joining the EU by 52% to 48% (less than the Scottish Independence margin). Norway is an old country, but in the modern era has only been independent since the beginning of the 20th century. The Black Death in the 14th century decimated its population, and, for this reason and other less pressing ones, it lost its independence and came under the control of Denmark, where it remained as a vassal state until it was given to Sweden in 1814, when Denmark was punished for taking Napoleon’s side. The Swedes gave them their own constitution and Parliament in 1814 (but with no Foreign or Defence powers), and they only became truly independent in 1905. Prince Carl of Denmark became King Haakon of Norway, and reigned until 1957. He was succeeded by the much loved King Olaf, who died in 1991, and his son Harald reigns now. Norway is only 3 kings into independence; they are a new sovereign nation and want to remain that way. The riches from oil have reinforced their position, as has the fact that they can provide all their own electricity from their hydro power stations. With their oil dividend fund, and a small population, they can afford to.
Norway has its own reasons for not being part of the EU. So could Britain emulate them? Not really, because we are two totally different countries. The UK has 12 times Norway’s population, and is the 5th largest economy in the world. Norway is 27th, mostly due to its oil. One could argue that the UK is even better placed than Norway to “go it alone”, but, without its freedom to export and import from the EU, it would soon lose its place and slide down the largest economies charts. If the UK wanted to join to join EFTA, it would need to be accepted by its current members, Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein, who may not want such a large economy dominating them. And we don’t have an oil dividend fund.