Britain urges EU to work jointly on Brexit deal, won't undercut rivals

VIENNA (Reuters) - Brexit minister David Davis said on Tuesday Britain and the European Union could reach a deal to access each others’ markets and dismissed fears Britain would use Brexit to cut regulation to attract global businesses, despite past threats to do so.

In the latest of several speeches by ministers to lay out Britain’s Brexit plans, Davis told business leaders in Austria that fears of Britain plunging into a “Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction” after leaving the EU are unfounded.

Instead, he proposed a system of “mutual recognition” where both sides agree common regulatory outcomes, such as consumer protection or financial stability, but are able to pursue their own policies to reach those goals.

“This will be a crucial part of ensuring our future economic partnership is as open, and trade remains as frictionless, as possible,” Davis said.

“Britain’s plan, its blueprint for life outside of Europe, is a race to the top in global standards, not a regression from the high standards we have now.”

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Davis is touring European capitals as Britain tries to persuade EU leaders to strike a new deal on trade. Britain wants to retain close economic ties with the EU after it leaves the trading bloc in March next year, while also being free to strike new trade deals around the world.

But EU leaders have warned Britain can’t have both freedom from the bloc’s regulations and frictionless trade.

Davis said Britain wants to work with the EU to create the highest standards of rules in the world, and cited workers’ rights and financial regulation as areas that could be improved.

His comments are designed to allay European politicians’ concerns that Britain could cut taxes and regulation to attract global businesses.

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Since Britain voted to leave the EU in 2016, supporters of Brexit have argued that removing the costs imposed by EU rules would be one of the main benefits.

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Davis said Britain and the EU could preserve regulatory standards by close cooperation between regulators and the use of an independent arbitration mechanism.

“The agreement we strike will not be about how to build convergence but what to do when one of us wants to make changes to rules,” Davis said.

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

He said the EU already has a number of mutual recognition agreements with countries such as Switzerland, Canada and South Korea covering products including toys, cars, electronics and medical devices.

Business leaders, anxious to preserve cross-border supply chains, generally support the plan.

The speech provides “assurances that the government wants to maintain and improve standards that deliver for consumers, whilst not inflicting any additional administrative burden on business,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium.

Davis’s speech comes as the EU is formulating its approach to the next stage of the Brexit negotiations and ahead of a crucial cabinet meeting on Thursday to decide on Britain’s negotiating strategy.

Writing by Andrew MacAskill; editing by Andrew Roche, William Maclean