Brexit: Iceland president says UK can join 'triangle' of non-EU countries

But an expert has said: 'You can't join the EEA unless you have full freedom of movement. Can the Leave campaigners not read?'

Jess Staufenberg
Tuesday 28 June 2016 10:08 BST

Britain has been offered a rather smaller vision of trade than the one it has just opted to exit.

One of the leaders of northern Europe has said Britain can join a "triangle" of countries in the northern Atlantic which do not belong to the EU.

Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, Iceland's president for the past two decades, said he was pleased British businesses could join a "key area in the North" including Greenland, Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands.

These nations either belong to the European Economic Area (EEA) or are overseas territories whose people have EU citizenship.

6 ways Britain leaving the EU will affect you

Mr Grimsson said that while Britain leaving the EU was a "grim" result for the bloc, it spelled a positive outcome for Iceland.

"First and foremost, the outcome [...] is a verdict so grim that it is hard to find words to describe this historic event," he told Iceland Monitor.

"Iceland and Norway will now, in a totally new way, become participants in negotiations that must take place between the European Union and the United Kingdom, and the European Union and member states of the European Economic Area (EEA) with this new triangle of countries in the North Atlantic," he said.

Mr Grimsson added that Brexit was good for Iceland's status within the international community.

"Our significance with regards to relations with our neighbours as well as the member states of the EU has undergone positive changes," he said.

But Michael Dougan, professor of EU law at Liverpool University, said that even if such a trade bloc was likely, it was "not nearly as desirable as what we are just giving up."

He said that membership of the EEA would require the unanimous consent of all 27 member states, the European Parliament, and the four European Free Trade Association states, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

"That's 32 vetoes," he told The Independent.

"And being part of the EEA involves the free movement of people anyway. How Boris Johnson can stand up there and accuse European migrants of bringing problems, and promise free trade...

"You can't join the EEA unless you have full freedom of movement. Can these people not read?

"They have deliberately set out to terrify people into believing the country had been stolen from them by foreigners."

Meanwhile Switzerland, which announced in 2005 it would only accept skilled immigrants, consequently lost some of the benefits of EU membership - including exporting services, which makes up a large part of the British economy.

Professor Dougan, who is funded by Liverpool University and works independently of the European Union, said the size of the British economy will not be an automatic bargaining chip with the EU.

"Do these people not realise? The Americans can't have access to the single market without freedom of movement, and they're the biggest economy in the world," he said.

"So basically, goodbye to the single market, particularly in services. That's a disaster."

Joining the EEA or trading within north Atlantic countries would be no real replacement for leaving the EU, added Professor Dougan.

Other experts have pointed out the UK had what many regarded as a good deal within the EU. It was already exempt from the euro, the Schengen agreement, "ever closer union" and several justice and home affairs solutions.

At the same time it received a large part of its science, development and agricultural funding from the EU. There is no agricultural funding available within the EAA and its terms do not make it part of a customs union.

Members of the Leave campaign have said that access to the single market is possible without freedom of movement of immigrants.

Its leaders, including Mr Johnson and Michael Gove, have also said there is "no need for haste" in exiiting the political and economic bloc, while EU leaders have said they expect Britain to leave "as soon as possible."

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in