The UK’s tech industry has welcomed the eventual arrival of a new Prime Minister in Theresa May, who effectively became David Cameron’s successor and the woman to lead Britain out of Europe after her only other rival dropped out of the running in the leadership race.
The surprise result after one of the most tumultuous few weeks in British political history has been welcomed by the UK’s tech industry for the expectation that it will bring more clarity to a post-Brexit no-man’s land which has left startups clouded by uncertainty about their future in the capital.
“Businesses in the tech sector will welcome any political news which brings business certainty to the business environment,” Tech City UK boss Gerard Grech told City A.M.. He believes the industry is confident that the widespread government support for tech and digital initiatives under Cameron will continue under May
“In the last six years, the sector has had unparalleled levels of support from Government which has enabled London to emerge as the premier tech hub in Europe,” he said.
BGF Ventures general partner Rory Stirling also welcomed the earlier than expected clarity on the country’s leadership and May’s skills in essential areas post-Brexit.
A safe pair of hands
“Theresa May is perceived as an experienced negotiator and ‘safe pair of hands’,” he said.
“This is a good thing because the tech industry, like all industries, desperately needs our new prime minister to create clarity and stability. Beyond that, the recipe for a successful UK tech industry is a simple one, it’s all about access to talent, capital and international markets.”
May has already met with Virgin tycoon and serial entrepreneur Richard Branson, it was revealed last week.
However, there was some concern raised over May’s approach to immigration and the sheer unknown quantity of where she may stand on tech matters having been largely uninvolved in directly related policy other than visa rules.
Immigration and surveillance
“Some of what she’s said about immigration is concerning. The tech community is full of wonderfully smart people,” said entrepreneur and investor Brent Hoberman, speaking to City A.M..
“Hopefully she has a more nuanced approach than she’s been quoted as having said before and an understanding the debate in greater detail.”
May faced fierce opposition from entrepreneurs, wider business and politicians last year over plans to force foreign students to leave the UK immediately, stopping them for applying for work visas. The plans were later ditched.
Grech praised her departments work on introducing a visa scheme aimed at making hiring top tech talent easier late last year.
“Her department was instrumental in helping launch the Tech Nation Visa scheme dedicated to attracting the best and brightest talent from all over the world,” he said.
One tech insider told City A.M. there may also be concerns over her stance on security and surveillance as she was behind the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill, otherwise known as the Snooper’s Charter.
Better than Leadsom
Entrepreneur and chair of policy group Coadec Alex Depledge told City A.M.: “I’m just relieved it wasn’t Leadsom.” But added: “Obviously I am ecstatic that our new PM is a woman and the message that sends.”
In terms of her priorities, it “wouldn’t be crazy” to think that tech could be one of her top priorities, according to Hoberman. He cited European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s drive to put the digital single market at the top of the agenda, despite a less than obvious penchant for digital policy, as an example.
The tech community will be waiting for an indication as to where tech will rank among her many pressing priorities, however, the branding of the UK – and particularly London – as a default for tech companies as a free market, open for business – is one of the most important ones, Hoberman added.
As for a reshuffle of the cabinet, Hoberman, Depledge and a source familiar with the government’s technology policy plans all expressed hope that those who have already been working within the government to drive the tech agenda are recognised by May and continue to do so.
“May is the closest to Cameron that we will get and I can only hope she recognises the amazing work that supporters such as Matt Hancock and Ed Vaizey have done and they remain in role,” said Depledge.
“It’s too early to tell but I have heard good things about May and that she listens and works hard. At this point I am not sure we can ask for much else. Number 10 has been so welcoming for the past six years and I hope that continues,” she added.
One insider, however, believes it’s unlikely tech will remain a priority considering Brexit will dominate everything for the foreseeable future, articulating what may be the worst fears of the tech community.