It’s safe to say that David Davis’s turn at navigating the roadmap to Brexit has not gone completely to plan today. The aim of the speech was to reassure businesses and Brussels that the UK will maintain high standards and regulations – with a pledge to keep a level playing field on state aid and competition policy. However, in pre-briefed quotes ahead of the speech, the Brexit Secretary promised that Brexit would not mean Britain is ‘plunged into a Mad Max style world borrowed from dystopian fiction’ but instead will lead a ‘race to the top in global standards’.
The colourful prose has won much attention in the press – and has led to headlines along the lines of ‘David Davis denies Brexit Britain will be like Mad Max’. The one small problem here is that up until Davis’s speech, no-one was suggesting that Brexit would lead to the country turning into a never-ending version dystopian horror film. It’s also led critics to joke that Davis is yet to rule out Brexit turning into other dystopian horror scenarios. Won’t the Brexit Secretary reassure us that come March 2019 we won’t be living in a version of The Handmaid’s Tale or A Clockwork Orange?
What Davis appears to have been attempting to do is silence critics who worry Brexit is a backdoor to the country becoming a ‘low-wage, offshore tax haven’. Previous government talk hasn’t helped this, with a range of comments suggesting that in the event of a ‘no deal’, Britain could adopt a ‘new economic model’ to stay competitive. Davis is now at pains to show that this is not their Plan A – or Plan C – as they try and embark on the second round of negotiations on friendly terms.
However, when it comes to hyperbole, it really is best leave it to your opponents. When Donald Tusk warned ahead of the EU referendum that Brexit could trigger the end of Western civilisation, there was no need to rebut the claim as people could work out for themselves that it was completely over the top. Likewise, Davis should leave his critics to come up with the doomsday comparisons and focus on coming up with the vision – complete with details – of what kind of country Brexit Britain will be. But until Theresa May decides on a final negotiating position, there’s only so much these ‘roadmap to Brexit’ speeches can deliver.