David Davis had his turn sketching out the road to Brexit this morning in Vienna, and he wanted his audience to know one thing: it didn’t have an immediate bonfire of EU-imported regulation at the end of it. A “race to the top on global standards” was on the cards, he said, instead of a “Mad-Max style dystopia”. His ode to the merits of regulation may puzzle Brexiteers who remember how Mr Davis used to rail against the “crippling burden of red tape” from Brussels, but Eurosceptics are not alarmed. Iain Duncan Smith told the BBC’s Daily Politics that he didn’t “really” detect a change of tone, arguing that workers rights were not “suddenly” going to be dumped. But, he added, “we would explain to our European partners where we want to change stuff”. Thatprocess will not be easy, I warn online.
Mr Davis’ speech, coming on the same day that Liam Fox paid tribute to Britain’s high manufacturing standards, is intended to reassure European partners that trade talks shouldn’t be too hard given that they’re dealing with a familiar nation. Remainers have been quick to mock the Brexit Secretary’s attempt to suggest rights wouldn’t be hacked away from day one, but EU ministers are striking a different tone. “I would trust the UK, definitely,” Malta’s finance chief Edward Sciculna said in Brussels today. “Of course I would trust David Davis", Sweden’s Magdalena Anderson said, “but we don’t know who will come after him someday in the future.” They may sound cautious, but Mr Davis and his colleagues will be glad to be getting a hearing.
Despite the best efforts of Mr Davis and Boris Johnson (the cabinet’s “ Ronaldo and Messi”, according to Michael Gove) to sketch out the road to Brexit, ministers may not settle on a roadmap this week.
The Brexit Secretary told reporters ahead of the crunch summit at Chequers on Thursday that “ there is no final answer” and that the gathering will aim to leave the UK’s Brexit policy “more and more and more closely refined”. Its current level of detail has not stopped the European Parliament from letting its willingness be known for Britain to be afforded “privileged” access to the single market. But in order to get to a Brexit deal, ministers will have to make their intended roadmap much clearer.