For the continued success of London's thriving tech sector, a new approach to Brexit must be pro-migration

Tracey Boles
London' tech ambassador

Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit vision lies in tatters. Until now, May's particular variety of so-called hard Brexit has included Britain dropping the EU's freedom of movement principle which allows workers to move around the bloc freely. Her failure to win a parliamentary majority has led to speculation that she might be forced to soften this approach.

As well as being rejected by the electorate, this type of Brexit has proved deeply unpopular among large swathes of the business community, and for good reason. Many sectors rely on skilled migrants to keep their talent pipeline well stocked.

Nowhere is this truer than in the tech industry: a massive 80 per cent of tech startups in London hired overseas workers within their first five employees according to a new report by Tech London Advocates. Its survey, detailed in our story, right, found that three quarters of tech professionals in London believe that policies outlined in the Conservative manifesto, if implemented, will restrict access to talent and undermine its success.

That cannot be allowed to happen. The London technology scene is, quite rightly, internationally recognised and feted. It is an engine for the wider economy, supporting 1.2m jobs and accounting for £95.5bn of GVA.

The election result gives the government the perfect opportunity to rethink what Brexit should look like. It is possible for the UK to be both outside the EU and have relaxed borders, in other words to be pro-Brexit and pro-migration.

Tory rising star Ruth Davidson has coined a new phrase that works as a suitable label for this winning combination: open Brexit. She believes in prioritising free trade and the country's economic interests over curbing immigration. That could provide the UK with a roadmap to success as it enters historic negotiations with the EU in a few days' time.

In the past, those in power have always been keen to align themselves with the soaraway success of the UK's tech sector. Witness mayor Sadiq Khan's appearance today at the start of London Tech Week (see p4). It is high time for ministers to return the favour and listen to what business actually needs, and that includes access to skilled migrants. Otherwise, tech's star could fall and our growth will likely be compromised.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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