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Brexit and the single digital market

The Act of Parliament to ratify Article 50 and the resulting notice that the UK will withdraw from the European Union are due tonight. This will have its effect on the single digital market, and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee met in Parliament yesterday to discuss the likely impact.

The witnesses included Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair, Arts Council England, John Kampfner, Chief Executive, Creative Industries Federation, and Nicola Mendelsohn CBE, Vice President, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Facebook but present mostly as chair of the Creative Industries Council.

Many of the concerns raised inevitably addressed creativity, including funding for arts and the alacrity with which the creative industries managed to pull their data together when the decision to leave the EU was taken. However, a number of points addressed the digital world as well when there was overlap. Bazalgette in particular raised the issue of intellectual property: “If we get the right IP regime we’re in a good place,” he said. If not, things could go wrong.

Mendelsohn echoed her company’s previous intention to continue working in London. “We came here to London in 2007 and we came here from a tech company perspective because it’s an incredible place to find highly skilled talent. We’ve been pretty clear we’re going to increase our investment in London with another 500 people. We’ve also been clear that access to talent is. Talent is a key issue for us and that’s where we share the same issues as the Creative Industry Council.” There were some concerns about the existing workforce currently based in the capital: “We would seek assurances for all the people from across the world that work for us.”

Bazalgette noted that the prime minister had referenced talent in her Brexit speech a fortnight ago. “I was very encouraged by the prime minister’s Brexit speech as she put a paragraph in about access to talent…the Home Office has I believe identified 17 skills gaps that need to be filled.” Mendelsohn was keen to see collaboration made simple, particularly given that some creative and technology companies are actually relatively small but they supply larger concerns: “With most creative companies having less than five people, we already see bureaucracy is a challenge and can stop business. Not only going forward with Europe but the rest of the world….you don’t want to have people bogged down in paperwork.”

In terms of the digital economy, Bazalgette noted that the UK is already part of a number of European bodies for which EU membership is not a necessity. “You don’t have to be an EU member to be part of Creative Europe, you don’t have to be an EU member to subscribe to the Transfer of Content TV Agreement,” he pointed out, and called for an audit of memberships the UK could retain.

On the single digital market, Mendelsohn stressed the need for information to be free. “We need to continue to have freedom of access to data from [the UK] and from [Europe], in the same way that it exists across the world. Kampfner praised the efforts to communicate the position to the government so far but stressed that each department needed to keep it flowing. “The heat will be very much on individual government departments in what will be a fast-moving, competitive environment.”

The entire proceeding can be viewed online here.