David Davis promises that Brexit will not throw Britain into a 'Mad Max dystopia'

Adam Bienkov
David Davis

REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

  • The Brexit Secretary promises not to engage in a "race to the bottom" in standards after Brexit.
  • David Davis uses a speech in Vienna to promise that Britain will not become a low-regulation "dystopia."
  • The speech is welcomed by business groups.
  • However, pro-EU campaigners say he is "living in cloud cuckoo land."

LONDON — Britain will not descend into a "Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction" after Brexit, David Davis promised today.

Speaking in Vienna, Austria, the Brexit Secretary sought to reassure the European Union that Britain will not seek to lower legal and regulatory standards in order to compete with the European market.

"We will continue our track record of meeting high standards after we leave the European Union," he said.

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

"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 our history, not our intention, not our national interest."

Davis dismissed fears that Britain would seek to compete with lax regulations in China and other major manufacturing countries.

"We'll never be cheapaer than China or have more resources than Brazil," he said.

"This challenge will only be met by an "increase [in standards]."

However, the Brexit Secretary sought to reassure the fears of Brexiteers that Britain will seek to remain completely aligned with EU rules after Brexit.

"The agreement we strike will not be about how to build convergence but what to do when one of us wants to make changes to rules," he said.

He said the UK would continue to co-operate with the EU on regulations, but as "respectful partners not suspicious competitors".

Davis proposed a system of mutual recognition between the EU and Britain.

"Take a car produced here in Austria to be exported to the UK. Currently, that vehicle only has to undergo one series of approvals, in one country, to show that it meets the required regulatory standards and those approvals are accepted across the European Union.

"That's exactly the sort of arrangement we want to see maintained even after we leave the European Union."

David Davis

REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Davis' speech is an attempt to answer Labour claims that the government is determined to engage in a "race to the bottom" in regulations after Brexit.

He insisted that the EU will be able to "trust" that the UK will not seek to undercut EU regulations.

"A crucial part of any such agreement is the ability for both sides to trust each other’s regulations and the institutions that enforce them," he said.

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

"And the certainty that Britain’s plan, its blueprint for life outside of Europe, is a race to the top in global standards not a regression from the high standards we have now, can provide the basis of the trust that means that Britain’s regulators and institutions can continue to be recognised."

Davis's speech was welcomed by business groups.

“Business will welcome the Secretary of State’s recognition of the benefits of frictionless trade, and the UK Government’s commitment to maintaining high standards to keep people and products safe," Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General, said.

"Aligning the rules of trade across sectors to keep barriers low will help preserve jobs and investment, signalling to the world that Britain remains a great place to do business. No sector is looking for divergence.

"Evidence, not ideology should guide the UK’s thinking on a close future relationship with the EU. And flexibility will be required from both sets of negotiators to seek solutions that will preserve prosperity on both sides of the Channel."

However, pro-EU campaigners said Davis was living in "cloud cuckoo land".

"David Davis is living in cloud cuckoo land if he thinks the EU will simply accept assurances about the UK's standards without blinking," Green Party co-leader and campaigner for Best for Britain, Caroline Lucas, said.

"The more likely scenario is that this Government will engage in a race to the bottom on standards — putting at risk both environmental protections and the hard-won rights of British workers and consumers in the process."

Labour said it was still clear that the government would lower regulations after Brexit.

"Davis’ promise to protect workers’ rights and environmental standards after Brexit simply isn’t worth the paper it’s written on," Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer 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’?"

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