Prime Minister Theresa May wants to ensure the UK remains a “magnet” for international talent, pioneers and innovators.
During her long-awaited Brexit speech, delivered today, May outlined her 12-point plan for negotiation talks with the EU in a seeming attempt to clarify the upcoming exit process.
She said: “My answer is clear. I want the United Kingdom to emerge from this period of change stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before.
“I want us to be a secure, prosperous, tolerant country – a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead.
“I want us to be a truly Global Britain – the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, but a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe too. A country that goes out into the world to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike,” added the PM.
Brexit means Brexit
May’s attempts to shed more clarity on the UK’s future outside the EU were met with varying opinion by some of the country’s innovators.
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Niels Turfboer, managing director Spotcap UK, a finance provider for SMEs, said: “’Brexit means Brexit’ is more clear than ever after May’s speech this afternoon.”
In recent years, he continued, London has shaken off the dust of the global financial crisis to become the world’s leading centre for FinTech firms. Despite this, Turfboer questioned whether this level of prominence within the global community could be sustained now that Britain’s future would likely develop outside the EU.
“Over the past years, a wide range of initiatives have been put in place making the government’s support of the community clear. Now, with May’s government setting out the objectives and strategy for ‘A Global Britain’ the strength of the initiatives will be challenged.
“For the UK to remain a ‘home to pioneers and innovators’ it will be essential to agree on access to a pan-European talent pool,” added the managing director, who seemed relatively positive about the future as he highlighted that it was in the interest of both the UK and the EU to develop a new strong relationship going forward.
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The PM’s comments about international talent were also picked up by James Chappell, CTO and co-founder of Digital Shadows, who highlighted the need for technology businesses to have access to skilled individuals overseas.
“We welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to the principle of keeping the UK open to securing international talent from the EU and beyond. Technology-based businesses such as Digital Shadows need to have access to the best brains from around the world and without it the UK technology sector could stagnate,” he added.
Chappell went on to note that more skilled professionals working in cybersecurity and data science are needed in the UK. It’s for this reason, he added, that the PM should prioritise access to skilled professionals in her negotiations with the EU, working to agree a process that is as frictionless as possible.
Alex Brodie, co-chair of Gowling WLG’s global tech sector, also commented on the news: “The Tech sector needs to know that the UK continues to support the growth and innovation it brings to the country – PM Theresa May said today that Brexit Britain will continue to collaborate with EU Member States on major tech and r&d which is an encouraging statement.”
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“In addition whilst announcing an end to the single market save maybe on a “pay and play” basis she also said that Britain would remain open to the “brightest and the best” from other countries,” added Brodie.
Brodie added that despite a hard Brexit position, it looked as though Brexit Britain was aiming to maintain its identity as a destination country for the technology sector.
Lack of substance
May’s plans, or lack thereof, were not well-received by all. Tom Chappelow, director of Nimbox, said he was dismayed at the lack of substance in the government’s Brexit proposals.
“Today we expected to hear some detail, but instead we heard meaningless rhetoric. The UK’s tech industry – a huge growth sector – deserves more,” he claimed.
Being able to trade with EU member states, he continued, is vital to the success of many technology businesses in the UK. “To continue trading with these states after our exit from the Union, we’ll need to conform to their regulations anyway. It’s hard to see a benefit, whilst the negatives are plenty,” argued the director.
Chappelow said he feared an increase in administrative and tax burdens and seemed largely unconvinced by the PM’s proposal to guarantee access to tech talent following the UK’s departure from the EU. “Access will be troublesome,” he said.
A confident delivery
Scott Woodley, co-founder of Tutora, agreed.
While pleased with the tone of the speech and the confident global position May seemingly sought for the UK, Woodley said her contribution was still filled with “too much rhetoric and not enough specifics”.
There was no outline of the reality of trade in a post-Brexit Britain, the co-founder said, adding that her whole speech could be summed up by one poorly chosen phrase “certainty, wherever possible”.
Elizabeth Varley, CEO and co-founder of TechHub, took issue with one of May’s statements which suggested that UK businesses weren’t calling for a reverse of the Brexit referendum result.
“It seems to suggest that business is comfortable with the leave result. This is not the case. Businesses are being pragmatic about responding to the various outcomes that may result from leave negotiations and are best trying to manage the difficulties caused by the current uncertainty,” concluded Varley.
With this in mind, Chris Piggott, co-founder of cloud technology business Synextra, said it was now more important than ever for companies to stand out in what he said was going to be a turbulent, yet profitable, new market for British businesses.
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