David Davis: Brexit hero or Mad Max maniac?

Brexit Minister tries to calm fears as Dutch activate ‘hard border’ plan

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David Davis gave a speech to Austrian business leaders in Vienna this morning
(Image credit: Getty images)

For all of David Davis’s support on the Eurosceptic Conservative backbenches, his critics routinely question whether the Brexit Secretary is up to the job - and even suggest he might be driving Britain into a Mad Max-style dystopian future.

Vote Leave’s campaign director Dominic Cummings famously described Davis as “thick as mince, lazy as a toad, and vain as Narcissus”, The Independent reports. On the same day as Cummings’ outburst, the Brexit Minister flew to Brussels for a half day of EU negotiations without any notes.

Davis has also been criticised for apparently conjuring up economic impact studies and for refusing to meet Michel Barnier over “diary issues”.

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Although no-one suggests he's wilfully leading Britain into a future of food shortages, grounded aircraft and 17-mile traffic queues to clear customs at the Dover port, the UK’s alleged lack of clarity during negotiations seems to have business giants and EU members worried.

The Dutch are activating a protective hard Brexit plan, recruiting at least 750 new customs agents to police port borders. Meanwhile, financial and tech giants are preparing contingency plans to move their European headquarters to the Continent, Bloomberg says.

This morning Davis tried to calm fears in a speech to Austrian business leaders in Vienna, saying that the UK hopes “mutual recognition” of EU regulations will continue after Brexit, and that the aim is to achieve frictionless trade and fair competition, the BBC reports.

Davis said Britain plans to participate in a global “race to the top”, rather than reduce standards, with a continued push for employee safety, flexible working hours, environmental controls, and high banking and financial standards.

“They fear that Brexit could lead to an Anglo-Saxon race to the bottom,” he told the audience in the Austrian capital. “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.”

Business will welcome the Brexit Secretary’s recognition of the benefits of frictionless trade, but pro-EU campaigners still believe Davis is living in “cloud cuckoo land”, says Business Insider.

The Guardian’s Brexit policy editor Dan Roberts points out that Davis may want to consider his own future, as well as Britain’s. The warning follows reports that Oliver Robbins, the former permanent secretary to Davis, is now effectively running the show.

“There are many who wonder if [Davis] has become the Government’s fall guy; a lightning rod for criticism, whose substantive role as chief negotiator has been eclipsed by his former permanent secretary,” says Roberts.

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