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Navigating the UK's Post-Brexit Technology Waters

08/08/2016 12:33 | Updated 08 August 2016

As the new UK Government navigates a course towards a new economic and political relationship with Europe and the rest of the world, UK businesses and their leaders must adopt a firm stance focused on keeping the British economy successful, open and innovative.

Britain's technology sector plays a critical role in its economy, comprising 10 per cent of UK GDP and boasting a growth rate faster than the economy as a whole. This growth needs to be consolidated, incubated and accelerated to enable the UK to retain its position as one of the world's leading digital economies.

To that end, the Government should pursue opportunities to influence and participate in the EU Digital Single Market strategy and preserve the UK's leadership in innovation and long-term support of the digital economy after the UK finally separates from the EU.

First, Westminster should seek to retain access to the EU Single Market, including the Digital Single Market, ensuring the continued free flow of data and services between the UK and the EU.

It should also maintain as much access as possible to the advanced skills the British economy needs to sustain its growth. Harmonised rules which permit the free flow of data are vital in delivering value from innovative technologies such as cognitive computing and cloud services.

To be effective, a new trade deal with the EU must include services, as the service sector accounts for 80 per cent of the UK economy and a growing portion of the UK's exports. Shutting off the flow of data, talent and expertise from the EU would deprive tech firms in the UK of an essential ingredient for sustained growth, which would be potentially damaging for both Britain's new generation of young tech start-ups and global enterprises with deep roots in the UK.

Second, the UK Government should pursue a bilateral 21st century, pro-data trade agreement with the US. Why? Because the flow of data between Europe and America is the world's most important digital trading relationship.

Preserving the UK's access to this critical stream of transatlantic digital commerce will sustain an environment in which UK entrepreneurs can develop innovative new services and drive long-term economic growth. These negotiations with the US should begin at the earliest opportunity, and both sides should work to rapidly conclude a wide-ranging agreement.

Third, with EU research funding in jeopardy, the UK Government should quickly find ways to support domestic innovation and research programmes without cutting itself off completely from EU-based skills and expertise critical to success.

Britain's universities and research labs have been highly productive: with just four per cent of the world's scientists, the UK produces almost 16 per cent of its most cited research papers. Dynamic innovation and research programmes encourage entrepreneurship, which has shown itself to be an important boost to the British economy ‒ 500,000 new businesses were started in the UK last year alone.

By preserving strong research programmes, London will maintain its status as a digital hub and the UK will continue to be an attractive place for foreign tech firms to invest at scale, whether it's part of a supra-national body like the EU or not.

The Government should prioritise these three initiatives thereby injecting much-needed clarity to stabilise the economy and encourage growth and investment.

At this critical moment for the UK, our Government must work to not just sustain, but critically, also to grow the country's capacity for data-driven innovation, research and high-tech employment, as they will be an undoubted cornerstone to our country's success outside of the European Union.

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