Two weeks ago, with great fanfare, and a lot of political drama, the Government published its White Paper. techUK responded, setting out the many questions still unanswered just a few months before a final agreement with the EU needs to be reached. In particular we highlighted the worrying lack of detail about how digital services will access the EU market post Brexit.
Yesterday, the Exiting the EU Select Committee asked techUK to give evidence on these concerns, alongside representatives from the City of London Corporation and the Insurance and Broadcasting industries. The session was a valuable opportunity to put the sectors' views to a Committee that has often had a significant impact on Government and Parliament’s thinking on Brexit. The session was even more important as, later in the day, the Committee quizzed new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, and the senior civil servant overseeing the Brexit negotiations, Olly Robbins.
What was very clear is that the tech sector is not alone in seeing the White Paper as failing to deliver the necessary detail to allow services industries to plan. All other sectors also raised concerns about the Government’s approach and the idea that regulatory flexibility in return for reduced market access is a positive outcome for services sectors. techUK made the point that given many of the EU’s rules around the Digital Single Market, such as GDPR, have extra-territorial reach, the ability to diverge is limited anyway.
One other thing that was very clear from the Committee discussion was that the statements made by businesses selling goods, in particular the automotive sector, in the run up to the Chequer’s Summit that produced the White Paper clearly impacted on the Cabinet’s decision. The weight put on those businesses’ contributions again shows the value in being clear with Government about what businesses need and why.
Finally, the questioning again highlighted just how real the prospect of no deal might be, and how damaging such an outcome would be for the tech sector. While the White Paper marks a starting point for negotiations with the EU, it is clear that we are still some way away from a consensus among UK politicians. This makes it all the more important for businesses to plan, where they can, for the impact of a no deal, and to continue to be very clear with Government that such an outcome would be a very bad deal indeed for the UK tech sector.