Full English Brexit: #30

Sunday, February 19th, 2017
  1. The Norwegian Model

I had very definite ideas of what I expected of Norway, and crumbs and old bits of salad left messily on the table wasn’t one of them. I think I’d assumed that the whole of Scandinavia would have an antiseptic, James Bond villain’s lair sterility to it, all straight lines and arch efficiency. Of course, I may have been knocked sideways by the sight of snow at Oslo airport, and my pitifully inadequate footwear, but it shocked me. Crumbs on the table, untidiness, it seemed against everything I thought I knew about the place.

For a while the ‘Norwegian Model’ was held up as a potential way forward for post-Brexit Britain. Look at them crazy Nordics, people would say, in Europe but not in Europe. They have access to the single market and yet aren’t bound by those demonic faceless Brussels bureaucrats and their despotic rules on fruit and lightbulbs. Of course that was in the days when there was some, however slim, sense of perspective. An acknowledgement, and it seems quaint now, that Europe was still important to our future if only in a business sense. Now we know that it isn’t and that actually it was all about stopping foreigners, regardless of skills or hardship, from getting into the country. Innocent times indeed.

David Davis was ridiculed for saying that one post-Brexit option for Britain would be to pay for access to the single market. But that would actually mean that Britain, while enjoying said access, would then be bound by the rules of the single market, European rules, and also have to accede to Freedom of Movement. He never specifically used the term Norwegian Model, partly I suspect because Norwegian Model is actually the title of a grainy old VHS that he still secretes in his sock drawer, but also because Norway has a higher level of immigration per head than Britain, and that would never do.

But at least it was discussed back then, at least it felt that avenues were being explored rather than now where it seems that Hard Brexit, Brexit at all costs, is the only card we’re playing with and if you don’t like that then you’re an enemy of the will of the people and singlehandedly responsible for ‘talking Great Britain down’. Any attempts at an adult debate are childishly shut down like it’s some playground falling out over the rules of conkers. If you voted Remain, shut up, you lost. If you voted Leave, then economic self-immolation was what you wanted so again, shut up. Where’s the nuance? Where’s the adult voice saying calmly, ‘let’s just think about this for a moment, shall we?’

I do not agree with an awful lot Tony Blair did as Prime Minister, at the very least he squandered an opportunity and planted the seeds for a lot of what is wrong with the world today, but he’s right on Brexit. The left are up in arms because it’s evil Blair who has made the call. Well, you know what? He had to because the current leadership of the left is pathetic, offering no opposition at all, more concerned with keeping that political anachronism Jeremy Corbyn in power than anything, anything, else. ‘But he started the war in Iraq!’ They squeal. Yes, we know. And that was stupid, but he’s right about this. I’m not a fan of Richard the Lionheart’s 12th century Middle East crusade endeavours, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t back his Prince John/Robin Hood policy.

Blair made the speech that Corbyn should have made months ago. I don’t like that it had to be him either but I look on it not as me agreeing with Blair, but with Blair agreeing with me. If he’s the new opposition then so be it, we need one. And you can tell it’s rattled the Brexiteers by the kind of people they’ve wheeled out to attack him, the Foreign Secretary no less. When Corbyn says something they send out a derisory post-it note slapped to the back of the Downing Street cat but here was Boris Johnson and he immediately attacked Blair’s ‘bare-faced effrontery’. Now this is a pot-kettle-black accusation of Olympic proportions obviously, coming from a man who promised £350 million a week extra for the NHS and then publicly back-tracked. Being accused of ‘effrontery’ by Boris Johnson is like being accused of sexism by Donald Trump, it’s surely meant more as a compliment than an accusation.

What it shows is that Blair has them rattled. Not all Leavers voted for a Hard Brexit or an economic policy based solely around immigration figures, but because they’ve narrowed the argument to those terms they’ve increased the number of people against them so someone, even Blair, especially Blair, is a real danger to their agenda. I say agenda, improvised policy and Seagull management of the situation would be more accurate. The seagull management metaphor is particularly accurate, flap-in, make a lot of noise, shit everywhere and flap out again. That’s this government’s modus operandi in a nutshell and exactly why someone organised and articulate offers such a threat.

I don’t think Tony Blair’s intervention will actually stop Brexit, but it will hopefully force issues that need to be addressed out into the open, issues about how we leave. It may even lead to a grown up argument over the terms of the divorce and the reality of its effects. Have your Brexit if you must, but do it with some level of sanity at least, and that will only come with proper, calm, discussion. What Blair might also have achieved is to create a new force in politics where the MPs who voted to Remain actually have the courage to do something about it rather than whine about ‘whips’ and ‘having their hands tied’. Something that I suspect a lot of them enjoy far too much.

So I sat in Oslo airport waiting for a connecting flight to my gig in Haugesund and the tables were filthy. Why this should upset me so much I couldn’t say. Everyone seemed very relaxed about it, but then everyone in Norway seems very relaxed about everything. There was no rushing around, no anger or hostility, no raised voices even. The shows were great, the travel between Haugesund and Sandnes, via Stavanger, was faultless. Stunning countryside, a bus ride through the open fields on empty roads and through vast tunnels, a relaxing train ride and a ferry across a sunlit fjörd. The hotels were welcoming and peaceful. Everybody just seemed happy and, well, relaxed. And that, I thought, is exactly why the Norwegian Model wouldn’t work in the UK, where we seem to thrive now solely on angst and division. We just couldn’t cope with that level of confident serenity. That, and the fact that it’s ten pounds a pint obviously.

Thanks for all the shares and comments, they really mean a lot and we’re up to around 150,000 views. And if you disagree with what I say, that’s good, it’s healthy – but keep it clean and non-abusive. I’m still hoping this will all be out in book form this year, but if you’re a literary agent and can help please get in touch.

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  • “Seagull Management” – fabulous! I’ve seen loads of that in my time. I know how you felt about the debris on the tables in Norway, too. The last time I was passing through Geneva (another location with a cleanliness legend), the streets were awash with all kinds of litter and shite – amazing. Quite a way through your first book now and enjoying it tremendously.

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