Pinging DExEU: Show us your source code

Worried about Brexit?
Stock photo by Matthew Henry on StockSnap

Nothing done without us is for us. We call on the Department for Exiting the EU to publish any studies it has conducted into the impact of Brexit on the digital and tech sectors.

This week 120 opposition MPs from Labour, SNP, the Lib Dems and the Green Party have written to David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, asking him to publish the Government’s Brexit impact studies for over 50 industry sectors:

Following the Brexit referendum, the UK Government commissioned at least 50 studies into the potential impact that leaving the European Union could have on individual sectors. We can presume that the digital/tech sector was included in these studies.

You might assume that these studies would be readily available for public review and, indeed, scrutiny by the very sectors they have been written about. They are not.

In fact, the UK Government initially tried to conceal the existence of the studies altogether.

To date, the Department for Exiting the EU has claimed that publishing the studies “would risk damaging our negotiating position. In particular, in any negotiation, information on potential economic considerations is very important to the negotiating capital and negotiation position of all parties.”

According to Green MEP Molly Scott Cato, the government promised in June to publish the list of sector reports “shortly”.

Autumn is here and there is no list.

Nothing done without us is for us. But those who work on the web in the UK are expected to sit quietly and allow the Department for Exiting the EU to negotiate our professional and, indeed, personal futures based on information we are not allowed to see and data we are not allowed to scrutinise.

Like all other industries, we acknowledge the results of the referendum. We do not acknowledge that the referendum result was a vote to take away control.

As an aspiring consultative body, Web Matters is concerned about the the impact that leaving the EU – whether that takes the form of a soft or hard Brexit scenario –  will have on our industry’s ability to trade across borders, hire skilled workers, and remain competitive in the global digital economy.

In order for us to represent our members on these concerns in good faith, we need to know what is being said about their work, the policies and legislations that shape their work, and the industry they work in.

To put it another way, we are missing a big chunk of code.

We call on the government to engage transparently with us, and with other industry bodies, to help us prepare for all scenarios. We have an obligation to our industry to ensure that our needs are being accurately represented and properly prioritised in negotiations with the EU and other trading partners.

In order for this to happen, we ask government to

  1. Publish a list of all sector studies undertaken by the Department for Exiting the EU;
  2. Publish, in full, any studies relating to the digital and tech industries;
  3. Open these studies up to consultation and scrutiny.

We look forward to working with digital champions of any political leaning, and of any party, who want to get this right as much as we do.

Brexit areas of concern

The UK is a services-based economy, accounting for nearly 80% of GDP, and the majority of the work done by the tech and digital sectors is on a services basis. Indeed, it’s estimated that digital/tech makes up 10% of GDP. (The actual figure may be even higher; one of the issues Web Matters will highlight is the lack of accurate economic statistics about a sector that has grown too fast for a taxonomy system designed to measure post-WWII reconstruction.)

As digital professionals, much of our business dealings with clients and suppliers is conducted across borders, whether that is internal data circulating within remote distributed companies or the services we provide to our customers abroad. It is therefore vital that any trade deals with the EU and other nations do not jeopardise our ability to remain competitive when buying and selling abroad.

Tech companies, both large and small, employ significant numbers of foreign workers from the EU and elsewhere. The UK’s computer games sector, for example, estimates that between 20 and 30% of its workforce is made up of non-UK EU nationals.

Yet even before we have left the EU, Brexit is having a chilling effect on skilled workers moving to or staying in the UK. This is putting extra strain on an already-competitive tech jobs market. Overall, a hard Brexit scenario could severely harm our ability to compete on the web, unless our industry is given full and fair consideration in trade talks, and skilled tech workers can continue to migrate to this country and are encouraged to do so.

Leaving the EU also jeopardises our participation in EU digital strategies such as the Digital Single Market. After the UK leaves the European Union, UK digital professionals will still be required to comply with EU digital regulations, but we will lose our seat at the table to have a say in how they are formed.

That is why it is all the more important for us to have clear, accountable information now about what decisions are being made, and what data those decisions are based on, while we still have a chance to have a say.

We call on the government to provide access to the data which is informing the exit negotiations and, once this is achieved, engage with the industry to take full advantage of these new opportunities.

What sort of answers should we have?

Exactly one year ago Labour published a provocative list of 170 questions for the government on a range of unanswered issues around Brexit. Several of these questions concerned tech and digital. At the time, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU dismissed all 170 questions outright as “a stunt”.

Yet one year on those questions still stand both valid and unanswered.

Well before the unresolved question of who can work, who can stay, and who must go, we still lack answers to year-old policy issues such as:

  • Will the government seek access to the Digital Single Market (DSM) as part of any agreement on Britain’s future outside the European Union?
  • If it does not do so, or is unsuccessful, how does the government plan:
    […]
    to deliver the benefit for UK digital subscribers of being able to access the same online content and services wherever they travel in Europe?
  • When does the UK government intend to enshrine the provisions of the Network and Information Security directive into UK law, and can it confirm that this will take place before Britain leaves the European Union so that there is no difference in the regulation governing UK-based digital service providers when offering services within the UK or in the rest of Europe?
  • Will the government guarantee that future UK data protection standards will be equivalent to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation framework starting in 2018?
  • If UK businesses are still required to abide by EU laws on consumer protection, competition law, etc. in order to keep trading to the EU, how does the government propose to influence the negotiation of these laws to protect the interests of UK businesses, once we have left the EU?
  • Will the UK continue to benefit from the EU-funded pledges to equip all ‘public places’ throughout the EU with free wireless internet access by 2020, and uninterrupted 5G access on all road and rail networks by 2025, and if not, will the government commit to match and fund the delivery of these objectives itself?
  • Will the government guarantee the full and prompt enactment of the European Accessibility Act into UK law, so that its provisions in respect of access to computers, phones, ATM and ticketing machines, e-books and television equipment are fully in force before Britain leaves the EU?

To its great credit, Parliament has done its best to hold government to account on each of these issues. Yet Parliament, as with the digital industry, has received platitudes, tautologies, and obstinate silence in return.

This is not a form of “taking back control” that any of us can accept.

Who will fight for the Web?

The UK government, lobbyists and other industry bodies are fighting tooth-and-nail behind the scenes to ensure that their members are not disadvantaged by Brexit or incentivised to take their operations elsewhere. But what about tech, digital and the web?

Web Matters will fight for individuals that work on the web who are not represented by traditional bodies and organisations. We want to make your voice heard during the Brexit process and beyond.

In order to to do this, we need your help!

Watch this space for membership news. In the meantime, you can join our Slack team, follow us on Twitter and help us to shape our approach to Brexit and many other issues that affect the web.

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