David Davis says there will be no 'Mad Max-style' free-for-all post-Brexit

20 February 2018, 11:25

David Davis has sought to calm fears of what he called a "Mad Max-style" free-for-all of sweeping deregulation post-Brexit.

Speaking in Austria, the Brexit Secretary said Britain wants to keep "close, even-handed co-operation" with European Union regulatory authorities even after the UK has withdrawn from the bloc.

Critics accused Mr Davis of living in "living in cloud cuckoo land", claiming his rhetoric was at odds with previous statements from prominent Brexiteers.

His speech was the latest in a series of "road to Brexit" addresses by top Government figures, following on from Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Mr Davis told an audience of business leaders in Vienna that a common commitment to high regulatory standards should mean that trade remains as "frictionless as possible" after the divorce is finalised.

He insisted the Government will maintain its track record of high standards outside of the EU and had no plans to engage in a new "race to the bottom".

"I know that for one reason or another there are some people who have sought to question that these really are our intentions," Mr Davis said.

"They fear that Brexit could lead to an Anglo-Saxon race to the bottom, with Britain plunged into a Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction.

"These fears about a race to the bottom are based on nothing - not history, not intention, nor interest."

Commitments on workers' rights, support for a stable European banking system and animal welfare reforms were all examples of the UK's determination to spearhead a "race to the top", Mr Davis argued.

There have been increasing calls from Brussels for more detail from Britain on the exact terms of the agreement it is seeking in the Brexit negotiations.

On that theme, Mr Davis said it was mutually beneficial for both sides to be able to continue to trust each other's regulations and the institutions that enforce them.

"Such mutual recognition will naturally require close, even-handed co-operation between these authorities and a common set of principles to guide them," he said.

"This will be a crucial part of ensuring our future economic partnership is as open and trade remains as frictionless as possible.

"I am certain that is in the interests of both sides and, because of that, I am certain that we can get this right."

In the event that one side or the other wants to change regulations, it is imperative that it does not lead to "unnecessary" barriers to trade being thrown up," Mr Davis reasoned.

On the wider question of a Brexit deal, Mr Davis said an agreement by the end of the year is "well on the cards" and talked down the prospect of there being no deal.

Meanwhile, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has warned the EU against imposing new trade barriers post-Brexit, saying it would make their own economies less competitive.

He said the Government was committed to safeguarding the interests of British exporters in the negotiations.

Reacting to Mr Davis' speech, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said it "simply isn't worth the paper it's written on".

He said: "How are people meant to trust the Brexit Secretary when his colleague Liam Fox has said current protections mean it's 'too difficult' to fire staff and Boris Johnson has described workers' rights coming from the EU as 'back-breaking'?

"The truth is there are many in Theresa May's government who want to use Brexit as an excuse to drive down standards and weaken fundamental rights."

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas was withering in her assessment, writing on Twitter: "David Davis really is living in cloud cuckoo land, isn't he?"