Vienna (AFP) - Britain will not engage in "Mad Max-style" deregulation and easing of workers' rights and environmental standards once it leaves the European Union, the Brexit secretary said Tuesday.
"We will continue our track record of meeting high standards after we leave the European Union," David Davis said in Vienna, and not a "an Anglo-Saxon race to the bottom".
Davis, 69, told business leaders in Austria, which will hold the EU presidency from July, that fears that Britain will plunge into a "Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction" were "based on nothing".
He said that instead of loosening rules in order to gain a competitive advantage over the EU after Britain's scheduled departure in March 2019, it will engage in a "race to the top".
This, Davis said, will also provide the trust needed between London and the EU to ensure that there can be "mutual recognition" of each other's regulations and so ensure "trade remains as frictionless as possible".
"Frankly the competitive challenge we in the UK and the European Union will face with the rest of the world... will not be met by a reduction in standards. We will never be cheaper than China or have more resources than Brazil."
- At odds with Boris? -
But Davis's speech, the latest in a series as the government prepares for crucial talks with Brussels on the future trading relationship due to start in April, was immediately criticised.
Opposition lawmaker Chuka Umunna said in a statement by pro-EU campaign group Open Britain that other members of the British cabinet do want a slipping of standards.
Last week British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it would be "absurd" if Britain were to leave the bloc "and not to take advantage of the economic freedom it will bring".
"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", which British Prime Minister Theresa May has said Britain will leave, Umunna said.
The Best for Britain campaign group said that Davis was "living in cloud cuckoo land if he thinks the EU will simply accept assurances about the UK's standards without blinking".
- Tricky transition talks -
Britain voted in a June 2016 referendum to leave the EU and is due to do so on March 29, 2019.
Following an interim deal in December on issues including how much money Britain will have to pay, talks have now moved onto a transition period to help prepare for the split.
Once these wrap up -- chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier has spoken of "substantial" disagreements -- negotiations can then begin on Britain's future relationship with the bloc.
"We are working towards a deal later this year and frankly my last couple of days of visits (and) everything I have seen indicates that that is well on the cards," Davis said Tuesday.
Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl said after meeting him that she wanted "clarity quickly".
"The EU is well prepared for the negotiations, our unity is secured and we have developed clear positions that we are communicating to Britain," Kneissl said in a statement.
Separately, the Dutch foreign ministry said that Prime Minister Mark Rutte will hold talks with May in London on Wednesday.