The 53rd State of IT

epa05133258 A Union Jack flag flutters next to European Union flags ahead a visits of the British Prime Minister David Cameron at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, 29 January 2016. Cameron arived in Brussels for unscheduled talks on a Brexit referendum. EPA/LAURENT DUBRULE

Research has suggested that British technology companies are significantly in favour of remaining within the EU, but Matt Warman, Conservative MP for Boston and Skegness, told a debate about the UK’s digital future that if the sector was so passionate about that position, it should speak up and hope to influence public opinion.

“The tech community is very, very strong in the opinion [that technology] is global,” said Warman, who is also in favour of staying in the EU and is former consumer technology editor of The Telegraph and chair of the all-party parliamentary group For Broadband and Digital Connectivity.

“If you guys believe this stuff, get out there and say it. It’s a hard task for politicians because we are often not the most trusted people in the room.”

Tech and politics
He noted that US-based technology figures, such as Apple CEO Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg, hold strong political views as well, particularly with regards to the Republican party frontrunner Donald Trump’s hopes of becoming the next president of the USA.

Indeed, Box CEO Aaron Levie opened his keynote speech at an event in London last week to “apologise” for Trump’s views, which have proved divisive both at home and abroad. However Warman accepted that technology firms had to balance their political beliefs with commercial sensitivities.

“Businesses need to find a way to get it out there. They need to … publically say it rather than hope [the Referendum] goes one way.”

Industry support for EU
Research from industry body techUK suggest that 70% of its members want to stay in the EU, 15% want to leave and 15% don’t know. The majority support the UK’s membership because it makes the country more attractive to international investment, makes the UK more globally competitive and gives it a more favourable trading relationship with other members.

“There is a strong message from the tech industry that Europe is good for business. Tech leaders are clear that the UK needs to be holding the pen on the laws that affect their businesses,” said Julian David, techUK CEO.

“A vote to remain is a vote to ensure the UK voice is at the heart of policies that support the UK’s most innovative sector to continue to grow and create jobs. A vote leave would mean that the UK tech industry would lose its voice on the issues that matter most.”

Tech London Advocates surveyed its members and found that 87% of its members oppose Brexit (the Leave campaign), because they believe that membership of the EU boosts the UK economy by making it more attractive to international businesses looking to operate in Britain.

It seems that just 3% of respondents favoured the UK leaving the EU. The remaining 10% reportedly declined to express their opinion on the matter.

It is clear there is concern within the tech industry about the impact of losing access to the European market. The survey found that nearly three in four (71%) feel Brexit would make it harder to reach customers in EU countries, and threaten existing relationships with suppliers based in Europe.

And more than four out of five (81%) believe that Brexit would make it harder to employ people from EU countries.

“London has established a global reputation as the digital capital of Europe,” Russ Shaw, the founder of Tech London Advocates said. “There is significant concern within the digital community that Brexit would undermine this position and threaten relationships with the European market.

“Attracting international companies to the capital has been one of the great success stories of London’s digital economy,” said Shaw. “Brexit could see global businesses locating in emerging digital hubs in Berlin, Paris and Stockholm rather than London.”

Besides the above reasons, it seems that the London tech sector is not keen on the uncertainty that could be generated by a British exit.

“There are things I don’t agree with in the EU, but no can tell us what the alternative will be like,” said Michael Seres, founder, 11Health. “I have an investment round coming up and looking to hire 14 new people in the next 2 years, I can’t make those decisions if my access to markets and the regulation in this and those markets is unknown.”

Business Risk

“The business risk of leaving the EU is on balance too high,” said Nick Thomson, Chief Revenue Officer at Workshare. “The business risk of leaving the EU is on balance too high. Not just for us but for all businesses engaged in the sharing of data securely.”

And Thomson pointed out Europe’s role in tackling America over recent data protection concerns.

“As a large trading block the EU was able to secure the EU Data Protection Regulation against US pressure,” said Thomson. “The UK may well have to compromise this level of data to protection in the negotiation for its new trade concession from the US. Leading not only to less data security for people and businesses based in the UK, but also making it vastly more complicated to share data with the he rest of Europe – our main trading partners.”

There is a real possibility that the UK could vote to leave, as recent polls have suggested that almost seven in 10 pensioners want to leave the EU, while young people were more likely to be pro-European, but are less likely to cast a vote.

Thoughts

It is clear that the UK Referendum will have a potentially significant impact on IT and Data which is quickly becoming, and always should have been, the “crown jewels” of every company.    If you consider what transpired with Safe Harbour and with the European General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) on the horizon, would the UK be in such a strong bargaining position outside the EU – or would we be caught in-between the US and the EU?

Added to this, the European GDPR will come into effect before the UK can legally depart the EU, so data controllers and data processors need to think ahead for this anyhow.   Let alone the question of what would the Data Protection and Handling Policy of the UK post referendum look like if we exited?

Technology is global.  Manufacturers are producing to global standards – and yet we still have geographic data protection regulations to adhere to.  Would a global data protection standard work?  Could nation states agree to subsume their local preferred interests against a global framework and would this mean watering it down to gain agreement?

What do you think?

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