Brexit is an opportunity to shape the future of UK tech

Syed Kamall
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The Silicon Roundabout In Old Street
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Data is the blood which courses through the veins of our economy.

Technology and data will increasingly define the extent to which the UK is seen as a competitive modern information economy. How we treat and protect that data will define us as a society, and how we exchange and use that data internationally will define the success of our economy, our security and our trade. Rightly, data flows will be a key component of Brexit negotiations, and our negotiations for other deals with nations around the world.

The next two years will be big for data. Brexit will converge with the expected implementation of the new General Protection Regulation (GDPR). The last time the EU handed down legislation on data protection was in 1995. – a world before iPhones, WhatsApp, and buying online. In the twenty years since, there has been an online revolution in how we share our personal information, as well as the kind of data we are willing to hand over for a better shopping experience or banking convenience. Quite simply, data is currency in the modern world.

However, despite data’s importance, and the landmark nature of the GDPR, a recent survey showed that only around 60 per cent of public sector organisations surveyed were aware of the implications of GDPR for their organisation.

In the click of a mouse, twelve months of the two year implementation period has already gone by, and it is now absolutely essential that businesses and the public sector seek guidance as to how to apply this legislation. Brexit will bring nuanced debate on data flows for security, trade, and finance. But the GDPR is already clear. We will have to adopt an equivalent standard of data protection, even post-Brexit, to allow EU firms to exchange data with us. Earlier this month, the UK government announced details of the planned UK Data Protection Bill to update and strengthen data protection laws and bring UK law into line with the GDPR, as well as position papers on seeking new arrangements with the EU in order to allow for the continued free flow of personal data.

And my concerns over the delays and hesitations to prepare for the GDPR are mirrored in the attitude of many tech companies in their preparation and input into the Brexit negotiations.

The opportunity presented by the “disruption” of Brexit, using the latest technologies, should not be passed up, especially by tech companies. I understand that with any massive regulatory shift there is always going to be fear and apprehension. The writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb suggests that when there is disruption, firms and individuals can either be fragile (break), be robust (survive) or be anti-fragile (thrive) and take advantage of the new opportunities. We need to see more anti-fragility in our thinking.

Instead of firms expressing concerns and assuming that it will be harder to attract global talent or that there will be more paperwork or border check delays post-Brexit, why aren’t tech companies offering smarter immigration systems to attract the very best talent or innovative and more convenient e-borders solutions at a click of a button?

There has never been a more opportune moment to shape policy, to offer advice to the government and work together with policy makers to craft a tech-friendly future. Help us get it right, and we will see the UK flourish over the next decades, becoming a global hub for innovation.

Fortunately, some are now waking up to the opportunities. Tech UK has set up a Brexit advisory panel. The Prime Minister recently chaired the first meeting of a business council on Brexit, where she expressed the desire to hear from voices across business and seize the opportunities in front of us.

My plea to businesses and to trade associations is simple. Seize this opportunity. Come forward and tell us what has been holding you back. Tell us what your ideas are. Please do not wait right until the end and miss the opportunity to feed into building an exciting new legislative framework which could help build the UK’s next tech revolution.

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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