Top officials including Brexit secretary David Davis have met with counterparts at the court in Luxembourg, which is recognised by Brussels but independent of EU rule.
Sources said interest in joining the Efta set up has “grown considerably” since last month’s General Election, when Theresa May failed to win a convincing mandate for her exit strategy.
The idea of future membership of the body has been raised at the highest levels of the UK Government, including with the Prime Minister herself, and is being actively considered by the Department for Exiting the EU (DexEU).
Britain could join Efta, and thus gain a judge on its court, without remaining in the EU’s single market or customs union as it is a completely independent trading alliance in its own right.
Legal experts have suggested that using the group’s court may be the most efficient way of leaving the jurisdiction of the ECJ whilst still satisfying eurocrats’ desire for independent legal oversight of any Brexit deal.
Last month the Efta court president, Swiss judge Carl Baudenbacher, told this Website he believed the UK could get a better agreement with the EU if it belongs to an institution officials in Brussels trust.
And the option is also beginning to gain favour amongst Brexiteers including the longstanding eurosceptic MP Bill Cash, who recently described membership as an “interesting proposition”.
DexEU insisted Britain will be leaving the jurisdiction of the ECJ and the single market after Brexit, but left the door to Efta open saying the future legal structure between the EU and UK will be a “matter for negotiations”.
Mr Baudenbacher met the Brexit secretary and his senior officials on a trip to London last year, during which the pair discussed how the Efta court could help smooth over the divorce process.
A senior official told express.co.uk that this initially appeared to be a scoping out exercise, with the Government still firmly committed to Mrs May’s idea of a completely clean break with European law.
However, since the PM failed to win a majority in the June 8 election this position has now changed, with ministers and Tory MPs now “absolutely” considering Efta membership as a serious option.
The official said: “There has been interest in this. I’d say that interest, particularly since the election, has quite grown quite considerably. Since the election there’s been proactivity.
“At the beginning I would’ve said there was interest, then there was less interest because the PM was going hard Brexit but then more recently, particularly since the election, there’s been a great deal more interest.”
Asked whether British ministers are actively considering joining Efta, they replied: “Absolutely, I think so. It wouldn’t surprise me if they’re thinking about it. But I don’t think that they yet have sufficient knowledge and understanding of it. They’ve heard of an interesting idea but they need to follow it up.”
The source said there has also been a great deal of interest shown in the Efta court by MPs on parliamentary committees, adding: “They’re going to be grilling the ministers so they need as much info as they can in order to ask sensible questions.”
The idea of Efta membership was recently brought up by Mr Cash and fellow Tory MP Vicky Ford, who was until recently a member of the European Parliament, in a Commons debate.
Mr Cash, who has campaigned for decades to get Britain out of the EU, said he had “specifically raised” joining the court with Mrs May after holding “fruitful discussions” with the trade group’s officials.
He said: “It is an interesting proposition. The great advantage of the Efta model is that it is completely independent of the EU yet follows the decisions of the ECJ for the most part although not always — that is important.
“It is important that we have a constructive discussion about the best way of being cousins rather than brothers and sisters. We all have a mutual interest in ensuring that we have a proper jurisdictional answer to these questions.
“We need to ensure that we end up with something that works, without prejudicing our legislative and judicial sovereignty, while providing an answer to the people in our constituencies and throughout the United Kingdom whom we serve as Members of Parliament.”
The Efta court, which is comprised of judges from its three constituent member states Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, follows pre-1992 ECJ case law but is fully independent of the EU.
It has often been subject of confusion and misunderstanding because those three nations have all separately chosen to seek membership of the single market through the EEA, accepting EU law and free movement in doing so.
However the UK would be able to join Efta and its court but choose not to opt for single market membership, instead aiming to negotiate a free trade deal as is the current ambition of the Government.
A DexEU spokesperson said: “Ministers have been clear that in leaving the EU, the jurisdiction of the CJEU in the UK will end. The future dispute resolution mechanism between the UK and EU will be a matter for negotiations.
“We do not seek to adopt an economic partnership model already in use by other countries. We want a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement that is of greater scope and ambition than any such existing agreement.”
Source : EXPRESS