As the Brexit clock ticks ever closer pressure continues to grow on the government from numerous angles to retain certain legislations and shed others. The most recent sector to voice their fears is Britain’s technology sector. In an open letter to the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, Julian David, Chief Executive of TechUK, the sector’s leading lobby group, urged the minister to keep EU data protection rules in domestic law following Brexit.
TechUK, which represents almost 1,000 UK tech firms warned Mr Fox that diverging from EU data protection rules in domestic law post-Brexit would ‘undermine’ the UK’s status as Europe’s leading tech hub. At present a growing number of Brexiteers want to use leaving the EU’s data protection rules as an advantage in upcoming negotiations. Mr David cautioned against this, saying it is ‘incompatible with securing high quality trade agreements.’
Mr David’s letter, which was co-signed by Dean Gartfield, Chief Executive of ITI, TechUK’s international affiliate, echoes sentiments already made by the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. However, Britain’s position as the leading digital hub of Europe adds gravitas to the letter. Couple this with the fact that Britain’s central timezone, strong regulatory environment and geographical location between the US and continental Europe makes Britain a worldwide data centre (handling 11.5% of global flow) and the plea takes on a new level of poignancy.
Should the UK turn its back on General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) after leaving the union Mr David fears that the country will see an exodus of talent to the continent, with many tech firms already having invested heavily in GDPR’s implementation. Any prospective trade partner could also be dissuaded in investing in the UK as a result of a weakened stance on data regulation. There’s a pressing risk of the UK becoming a ‘third country‘ for data protection, which will result in the EU deeming the country unable to offer sufficient safeguards and protections for EEA personal data.
Without wanting to wade into a complex political issue, it’s hard to refute the key points of TechUK’s letter. Without a clear cut vision for the UK’s future data regulation companies do not know how to prepare for Brexit or communicate their position and thus could face irreparable reputational damage. Further, this can result in unclear customer relations and unplanned-for operational demands, both of which could be costly blows in a challenging and unstable economy. Keeping GDPR will allow Britain-based tech companies to flourish at both a European and global scale.
Prior to TechUK’s publication, the sector was cited frequently as an area that could thrive away from the EU. We remain confident in the face of uncertainty that Britain has an exceptionally strong pool of tech innovators and startups that will guarantee success regardless of the outcome, but you can’t help but wonder how many more blows industry titans will deliver to Brexiteer ministers who continue to demand a divergent Brexit.