Brexit: UK will not take part in ‘race to the bottom’, says Davis

Brexit secretary criticises Trump’s isolationist rhetoric in speech on US visit

David Davis, Britain’s Brexit secretary, speaking at the US chamber of commerce in Washington on Friday. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

David Davis, Britain’s Brexit secretary, speaking at the US chamber of commerce in Washington on Friday. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

 

The UK’s Brexit secretary, David Davis, has taken aim at the isolationist rhetoric of Donald Trump in a pointed speech in which he told US business leaders that free trade was the solution to, not the cause of, global turmoil.

Speaking to the US Chamber of Commerce, Mr Davis said Britain would not take part in a “race to the bottom” in order to secure new free trade deals with countries outside the EU after Brexit.

But he conceded one of the UK government’s Brexit proposals – a so-called track-and-trace scheme using technology and trust to replace customs controls as part of a mooted new customs arrangement – may not happen.

Asked by a FedEx executive to explain how the proposed regime would work in practice, Mr Davis said it was less likely to be accepted than a more conventional system, adding that it was “blue-sky”.

He said he did not want to see a return to 1930s-style protectionism, and hinted the US president should rethink his policy on global trade. “The answers to the problems of the West cannot be to turn our backs on globalisation and trade,” he said, without mentioning Mr Trump directly. “It feels to me it is necessary to make the case once more for free trade and capitalism.”

Mr Trump has been a firm advocate of a new protectionist agenda for the US, which would prioritise US manufacturing, and has blamed “terrible deals” with states such as China and Mexico for much of the country’s economic problems.

Mr Davis said the pace of change “may feel like a threat”, but said western economies had to find ways to compete. “There is no future in trying to be cheaper than China,” he said.

Instead, he said the major aim of US-UK co-operation should be a renewed focus on easing trade in services. “We must work together to convince other countries of the benefits,” he said.

Asked by one business leader if the UK had been able to persuade the Trump administration of the importance of services as well as goods, given Mr Trump’s particular fixation on the US automative industry, Mr Davis said: “It’s natural I’m afraid in politics for people to focus on the obvious, and it’s easy to see lots of cars crossing a border, for example. It’s harder to see the effect of the virtual world of services. But we are working on it.”

In the speech, Mr Davis also appeared to give his backing to cabinet colleagues such as Michael Gove, who has said the UK is not prepared to consider lowering standards on items such as chlorinated chicken in order to secure a trade deal with the US.

Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, has suggested the UK should be open to more flexible regulations in order to open up new global markets.

Mr Davis said he was “no fan of excess burdens for business ... [but] we will not be engaging in a regulatory race to the bottom.” He said that Britain had an “opportunity to lead a race to the top on quality and standards across the globe”.

Guardian service