David Davis has hit back at Brussels after it suggested that a hard Brexit could leave British workers more vulnerable to cancer.
The Brexit Secretary ridiculed fears of a “Mad Max-style” future for the UK as it emerged an internal European Commission document claims that the UK quitting the EU could lead to “higher exposure to chemicals and carcinogens”.
The stark warning was included in a slideshow that suggested Britain could abandon a “level playing field” by “reducing levels of occupational safety and health” to undercut European rivals.
The highly provocative claim, produced by the Commission’s Brexit ‘Task Force’, was part of a document to set out possible scenarios if the UK quit without a deal. It was shared among the 27 other EU states in a series of private seminars held in recent weeks.
The EU last year confirmed a new Carcinogen and Mutagen Directive, which forces employers to reduce levels of 13 substances in the workplace, in a bid to save 100,000 lives.
Carcinogens at workplaces account for 53 percent of all work-related deaths in the EU, with lung cancer, asbestos-caused mesothelioma and bladder cancer among the biggest killers.
But in a speech in Austria on Tuesday, Davis will attack such warnings as “dystopian fiction” and declare that Britain outside the EU will instead protect and enhance workers’ rights.
He will attack those in Brussels – and the Labour party – who “fear that Brexit could lead to an Anglo-Saxon race to the bottom, with Britain plunged into a Mad Max-style world”.
The Mad Max movie franchise, starring Mel Gibson, depicted a future where society collapses amid war and food shortages.
“These fears about a race to the bottom are based on nothing, not history, not intention, nor interest,” Davis will say.
The Cabinet minister will say that Brexit will unleash “a race to the top”, not to the bottom, when it comes to global standards in labour laws and other protections.
His speech, titled ‘Road to Brexit: Foundations of the future economic partnership’, will offer instead the prospect of “mutual recognition” of EU and UK rules to avoid “unnecessary barriers” to trade.
Davis will add that his other main “principle” for Brexit will be “fair competition, which underpins the best elements of the European economy, and which we must work hard to spread”.
Declaring that he is ‘certain’ a good deal can be achieved, he will commit to continuing the UK’s track record of meeting high standards after it leaves the European Union.
Davis will however stress that the fears “remind us all that we must provide reassurance” and will point to efforts by Chancellor Philip Hammond to stress the UK’s role in financial stability in the wake of the financial crisis.
The latest in a series of ministerial speeches before the Cabinet decides the detail of its Brexit trade plans, his address will praise Michael Gove’s “crusading zeal” for improving animal welfare and “my friend” Boris Johnson’s own bid to distinguish between the EU and the UK’s shared European values.
Davis will also suggest both sides need to be able to “trust” each other’s “regulations and the institutions that enforce them”.
“Such mutual recognition will naturally require close, even-handed cooperation between these authorities and a common set of principles to guide them,” he will say.
“This will be a crucial part of ensuring our future economic partnership is as open, and trade remains as frictionless as possible. I am certain that is in the interests of both sides. And because of that, I am certain that we can get this right.”
But Labour’s Chuka Umunna, a supporter of the Open Britain campaign, said: “David Davis insists that Brexit won’t mean a race to the bottom on everything from workers’ rights to environmental standards but not everyone around the Cabinet table agrees with him.
“Theresa May has repeatedly failed to rule out scrapping working time regulations, Boris Johnson wants to get rid of the Social Chapter and Liam Fox says he’s in favour of importing chlorinated chicken from the United States.
“In reality, the best way to protect and enhance the high standards that exist in this country is to stay in the Single Market and the Customs Union, especially when there is no public appetite for the kind of widespread deregulation favoured by Brextremists on the hard right of the debate.”
Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, for the Best for Britain campaign, added: “David Davis is living in cloud cuckoo land if he thinks the EU will simply accept assurances about the UK’s standards without blinking.
“They will have heard Brexit ministers boasting about how Brexit will be a chance for massive deregulation.”
A new Opinium poll for the IPPR think tank revealed that across a range of consumer, financial, employment and environmental legislation, an overwhelming majority of the public want to keep the current standards in place, or go further than the minimum requirements specified by EU legislation.
Only relatively small proportions of the public are in favour of reducing or removing standards in workers’ and other rights: 14% want to either loosen or remove the current Working Time Directive rules, and only 9% want to raise or remove the cap on bankers’ bonuses.