Brexit Secretary David Davis has dismissed claims Britain is heading for a “Max Mad-style” dystopia after it leaves the European Union with a sweeping programme of deregulation.
In a keynote speech in Vienna, Mr Davis said the UK was determined to maintain its track record of high regulatory standards – from worker’s rights to the environment – after Brexit.
Addressing Austrian business leaders, he said the commitment offered a “clear read across” into the forthcoming talks on a free trade deal with the remaining 27 member states.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir 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’?
“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.”
In his speech Mr Davis acknowledged there were concerns about Britain’s commitment to maintaining regulatory standards outside the EU.
“I know that for one reason or another there are some people who have sought to question that these really are our intentions,” he said.
However Mr Davis said maintaining high regulatory standards could help ensure trade with the EU remained as “frictionless as possible” after Brexit through “mutual recognition” of each other’s rules and institutions.
“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 intentions, nor our national interest.”
His comments follow previous warnings by ministers that the UK could adopt a different “economic model” if it was unable to secure a satisfactory deal with the EU – raising concerns it could seek to undercut the remaining member states with a low-regulation economy like Singapore.
“While we will be seeking a bespoke agreement, reflecting our shared history and existing trade, there are already precedents outside the EU that we can look to,” he said.
“The European Union itself has a number of mutual recognition agreements with a variety of countries from Switzerland to Canada to South Korea.”
He added: “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. With a robust and independent arbitration mechanism.
“Such mutual recognition will naturally require close, even-handed cooperation between these authorities and a common set of principles to guide them.”
“UK firms would welcome a pragmatic agreement between the UK and the EU that ensures businesses face only one set of regulatory approvals to sell their goods across borders,” he said.
“It is incumbent on the UK Government to demonstrate the basis for mutual recognition between the UK and the EU – and it is the EU’s responsibility to be open to such an arrangement as the negotiations progress.”
However Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said: “David Davis might as well be making the case for staying in the EU.
“They want all the advantages of staying in the single market and customs union while leaving it, which is clearly an absurd negotiating position.”