The Brexit secretary will claim that Theresa May’s government wants to oversee a race to the top in global standards, listing workers’ rights, City regulation, animal welfare and the environment as areas for potential improvement.
In the latest speech in the government’s “road to Brexit” series, Davis will say: “We will continue our track record of meeting high standards after we leave the European Union. Now, I know that for one reason or another there are some people who have sought to question that these really are our intentions … these fears about a race to the bottom are based on nothing – not history, not intention nor interest.”
British officials highlighted a recent warning in a European commission presentation to member states relating to workplace safety standards that appeared to suggest UK workers could be at higher risk of cancer after Brexit.
One slide suggested that the UK might cut “levels of occupational safety and health” leading to “higher exposure to chemicals and carcinogens”, and that workers could have their consultation rights cut to reduce delays for collective dismissals.
Davis will use the speech to hit back at that suggestion, outlining UK hopes that “mutual recognition” of regulations will continue after Brexit.
He will add: “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.”
The minister’s attempt to reassure critics of the process for leaving the EU follow comments from Damian Green, until recently the prime minister’s de facto deputy, that could ramp up tensions over Brexit within the Conservative party.
In a BBC Radio 4 documentary, he questioned the ability of some pro-Brexit colleagues to “accept evidence” of the economic risks of leaving the EU, and said the government ought to publish such analysis in full after it is produced.
“I do reject all the conspiracy theories that suggest there’s some sort of plot inside the official machine to thwart the will of the people,” added Green, after a row in parliament in which high-profile Tory MPs questioned the impartiality of civil servants.
Davis’s speech on standards sets out some of the key issues to be discussed by cabinet ministers at May’s Chequers away day on Thursday.
The team, which includes ardent Brexiters and others who campaigned to remain, are coalescing around the idea of a system in which Britain will argue in favour of aligning with the EU in some areas but immediately diverging in others.
Davis’s reassurances on continued high standards coincide with a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research that suggests minimal support for deregulation.
An IPPR/Opinium poll found that more than 60% of the public want to retain or tighten the rules on vehicle fuel emissions, rising to more than 70% for renewable energy targets, the working time directive and a cap on bankers’ bonuses, and more than 80% for consumer cancellation rights. Only a tiny proportion say they would be happy to relax or remove such conditions.
The report, which argues in favour of staying closer to the European model of trade rather than the US one, also warns that there are signs that the UK wants to deregulate.
It highlights: the fact that the EU largely sets minimum standards not maximum ones; that many senior figures have argued strongly in favour of deregulation; and that the UK may not have the resources to keep up with changes to EU regulations after Brexit so will converge “by accident rather than design”.
It also says that the UK, as a “mid-sized economy”, can only maximise its trading benefits by aligning to a larger bloc, with the EU or US being the obvious options.
Tom Kibasi, the director of the IPPR, said: “Our research shows there is no appetite for deregulation post-Brexit. Regulatory divergence is both anti-worker and anti-business, so it should be no surprise that the public don’t want it.
“Our proposal for the ‘shared market’, where Britain and the single market would be aligned and in a customs union, remains the best way to secure our economic interests while honouring the vote to leave.”
Government officials admitted that Davis’s call for “higher standards” did not mean there would be no deregulation, suggesting that Brexit would allow the UK to regulate in a different manner.
One senior EU diplomat said everyone wanted frictionless trade, and that it would arguably help if the UK adopted EU standards on a broad scale.
“But even with this, this will not alter the fact that there will be a border between us. And that there will be enforcement of such a border in terms of not only tariffs, but verification that the UK actually meets the standards they need to export into the EU,” he said, also listing checks for counterfeited goods or trafficking.
The international trade secretary, Liam Fox, will also stress the benefits of high standards in a speech to the manufacturing industry on Tuesday, calling UK-produced goods “a kitemark of quality, innovation and world-leading technological advances”.
Fox will tell business leaders at the EEF conference that there will be a “functioning trade regime on day one” after Brexit.
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