November 28, 2018 / 11:14 AM / 15 days ago

Norway may help 'find solutions' if Britain seeks to join EFTA - PM

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway may lend support for a potential bid by Britain to rejoin the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) if so wished by London after it exits the European Union, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Wednesday.

In Britain, supporters of a so-called “Norway plus” plan that would see Britain re-entering EFTA, of which Norway is a member, have said it could provide an alternative to Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit agreement with Brussels.

Asked whether Norway would support Britain coming back to EFTA, Solberg told Reuters in an interview: “If that is what they really want, we will find solutions in the future.

“To find a good agreement is important for all European countries and I hope that we will see an orderly deal that doesn’t disrupt economic affairs in Europe,” she added.

Britain is Norway’s biggest trading partner, to whom it sells natural gas, fish and services.

May began on Wednesday a tour of the United Kingdom to drum up support for her Brexit divorce deal with the EU ahead of a vote in parliament scheduled for Dec. 11.

Amid demands from many British lawmakers for May to seek a better deal from the EU, a step Brussels has said it will not countenance, her deputy has said parliament might reject her plan if asked to vote on it now.

In the two years since Britain voted narrowly in favour of leaving the EU, Solberg has expressed both doubt and support for Britain rejoining EFTA, which London helped found but quit to enter the EU in 1973.

She has expressed concern in the past that the size of Britain’s economy - fifth largest in the world and second largest in the EU - and 66 million people would radically change EFTA, which now comprises Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein with a combined population of just 14 million.

Solberg has also cited farming as one example of a possible conflict of interest if Britain rejoined EFTA. Britain exported food and drink worth 18 billion pounds in 2015 while Norway imposes high import barriers to protect farmers in a country that stretches into the Arctic.

Being back in EFTA would keep Britain within the EU’s lucrative single market for services, whereas Britain would leave it under May’s deal with Brussels.

Writing by Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Terje Solsvik and Mark Heinrich

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