Post-Brexit UK won't be like Mad Max, says David Davis

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Will ministers be locked in a room 'all night'?

Britain will not be "plunged into a Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction" after it leaves the EU, the Brexit secretary has said.

David Davis said the UK wanted to lead a "global race to the top" in rights and standards not, as some feared, a "competitive race to the bottom".

British business could "never be cheaper than China" and must focus instead on product and service quality.

He also suggested a Brexit deal by the end of 2018 was "well on the cards".

The Brexit secretary's address to Austrian business leaders in Vienna is the latest in a series of speeches the UK government is calling "the road to Brexit" as it faces demands to spell out details of the future partnership it wants with the EU.

The UK says it wants to avoid obstacles to smooth trade with the EU although it is leaving the single market and the customs union when Brexit happens in March 2019.

Mr Davis said this can be achieved if both sides recognise each other's standards and regulations, promising the UK will "continue our track record of meeting high standards" once outside the EU.

The government has previously spoken of adopting a "new economic model" to stay competitive if it is locked out of the EU single market after Brexit, and Labour has claimed the UK could be turned into a "low-wage, offshore tax haven".

Mr Davis hit back at the government's critics in his speech, invoking the Mad Max series of action films which portray societal collapse in a lawless future world.

Image source, Warner Bros/Jasin Boland
Image caption,
The first three Mad Max films in the 1980s were followed by Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015

"They fear that Brexit could lead to an Anglo-Saxon race to the bottom," Mr Davis said.

"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 intentions, not our national interest.

"But while I profoundly disagree with those who spread these fears — it does remind us all that we must provide reassurance."

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The UK, he said, would never prosper in a new era of intensified globalisation by cutting standards since it "would never be cheaper than China or have more resources than Brazil".

He said UK's post-Brexit economic relationship with the EU should be based on the principles of "open trade and fair competition".

As part of this, once the UK has left, it would not allow firms heavily subsidised by EU governments "unfettered access" to its markets nor permit mergers between UK and EU firms which reduced consumer choice.

"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 added.

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

Last year EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said it was "simply impossible" for the UK to adopt its own standards and regulations while also having them recognised automatically in the EU.

Labour said past comments by some senior ministers showed they wanted to use Brexit as a vehicle to "drive down" environmental standards and employment rights when, instead, they should be extended.

"David Davis's promise... isn't worth the paper it's written on," said shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer.

The general secretary of the GMB union, Tim Roache, said: ""If the best this Government can do is promise Britain will not turn into a 'Mad Max' nightmare - it's no wonder people are worried about their post-Brexit lives."

The Institute of Directors' Allie Renison said they were "pleased that Davis acknowledges the importance of keeping a level playing field on state aid and competition policy. Minimising trade barriers can and should go hand in hand with a future deal with the EU".

By Adam Fleming, the BBC's Brussels reporter

Trust levels in the UK were fairly high as EU finance ministers arrived for a regular meeting in Brussels today. After all, they have seen their British colleagues largely play by the rules for the last four decades. But what happens next?

Luxembourg's finance minister sees it as a balance: stick to European standards and goods will flow freely between the two, go your own way and trade won't be as smooth.

And the EU doesn't just want a pledge, they want rules, a process, a mechanism that binds the UK into what Brussels calls the Level Playing Field, or the LPF.

Magdalena Andersson of Sweden summed up why, saying: "Of course I trust David Davis but we don't know who will come after him some day in the future."

Debating the speech on Daily Politics

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter