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Brexit will need to work technologically as well as politically

Brexit is going to be complex enough in a political sense and the technology to make it work is going to be no less so. The government appears to be determined to use IT to make border control and other changing issues “frictionless”; TechUK has responded to this by agreeing that it’s important but stressing that it won’t be easy.

Brexit’s war of white papers

The prime minister’s white paper has a lot of aims that end up using the word “frictionless” quite a lot, and of course this is going to end up meaning a lot of automation if it’s going to work.  This will result in a lot of commonality with the EU, at least initially, for example in the adoption of GDPR as we’ve noted before on New Statesman Tech.

However, technology is rarely straightforward or easy. Only yesterday we noted the difficulties currently being encountered as the new Emergency Services Network is lined up to take the place of the existing one, whose infrastructure might conceivably be dismantled before the incoming version is ready.

TechUK has therefore published its own white papers. In “The UK Digital Sectors After Brexit“, published last month, it concludes that trading in services needs to be prioritised. “…he digital sectors are responsible for an outsized share of exports overall, and 81 per cent of digital sector exports are in services,” it says. “Though we face data limitations to arrive at firmer numbers, it is safe to say that a sizeable portion of digital sector exports in services – approximately one-third or more – is with European trading partners.”

Technology’s Brexit

TechUK is therefore calling for four key objectives to be achieved during Brexit negotiations (and it hardly needs adding that they are easy to type, less simple to translate into reality):

  1. A realistic and robust plan for the technology sector in the UK post Brexit: There is more detail on the organisation’s website, involving recognising the importance of the IT industry, working with Europe to ensure there is an understanding of any free trade agreement after the UK has departed and calibration of the forthcoming digital strategy to take account of the changing relationships;
  2. Continuing market access and regulatory certainty: certainty is something that has been in short supply for some time since the referendum, and avoiding regulatory divergence between the UK and the EU;
  3. Setting out a credible plan to attract and retain talent; as New Statesman Tech has reported previously, finding people to fill the skills gaps is not easy even pre-Brexit. Restrict movement too narrowly and there is a risk of narrowing rather than expanding the people available.
  4. Ensuring that there is a legal structure in place for cross border data transfer. As the parliamentary committee’s witnesses said last week, there is a need for data as well as people to move around regardless of geographical borders if any new arrangement is to work to the benefit of both parties.

The government appears determined that any new relationship with the EU should be “frictionless” and it’s all but impossible to argue against this. As TechUK points out, however, there are a lot of practicalities to address before that becomes a realistic prospect.