Brexit continues to dominate European news. France’s lurch away from established political parties was greeted in the UK as much with trepidation as excitement, as finalist Presidential candidates Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron have been billed as tough negotiators on the imminent exit of Britain from the European Union. The Guardian reported this week that Macron in particular would drive a “hard bargain,” noting the 39-year-old presidential hopeful’s description of Brexit as a “crime”.
That will do little to allay fear among Britain’s tech leaders that Brexit will be anything other than a disaster for the domestic market–one that has strived in recent years to become a global leader in fintech, app development and a number of other industries.
Buoyed by the demise of the opposition Labour Party under hard-left leader Jeremy Corbyn, Prime Minister Theresa May has called an election, to be held June 8. May and her cohort believe they can tear more British constituencies away from rival parties, to hold greater power come negotiations with Europe over Britain’s exit from the common market.
UK tech leaders have already called on May, via an open letter in December, to ensure Britain stays competitive post-Brexit. A coterie of nine executives stressed the importance of movement of talent, education and investment as areas about which they are concerned.
The Conservatives have signaled their intentions to keep Britain strong and fully operable after its withdrawal. A number of concessions will, however, be inevitable. No longer will EU citizens cross Britain’s borders visa-free. Researcher techUK found that 45% of recent tech vacancies were filled by EU nationals. A February poll of UK-based firms revealed that a quarter believed their EU employees would consider leaving.
The free flow of data is another issue concerning the British tech sector, with pressure groups claiming that privacy laws enacted by Brussels could vanish in post-Brexit Britain.
On the former, there are reasons to be hopeful: May’s government has signaled its commitment to expanding visa regimes and keeping talent in the UK. More workers could also come from Asia, from where some analysts predict investment could double.
Big growth could come from China, which is sitting beneath the threat of punitive trade measures from US President Donald Trump. Far East investment in Europe is set to reach $120 billion this year, with a lion’s share going to the UK.
Neither have venture capitalists been deterred from putting cash into British outfits. According to Tech City UK, a researcher, VCs plowed $8.5bn into the country last year–almost five times more than Germany.
Whether British innovation will continue, and sustain that level of funding post-Brexit is another matter. Several pharmaceutical firms have already sounded their intention to leave the country. Gaming, one of the high-tech sectors May and co will be eager to preserve, appears to be turning its back on Britain: trade body Ukie discovered that 57% of gaming companies employ EU nationals–and that 40% were considering relocation.
Markets thrive on stability. All of Britain’s politicians are claiming they can bring it to a nation rocked by one of the biggest political shocks in its history. Other EU states keen to make an example of Britain will be playing hardball with negotiations, and it’s almost impossible to say for sure what the outcome will be for tech firms based in the country.
Stability, it appears, will remain a luxury for some time yet.