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techUK warns Brexit plan means "sprint, not marathon"

techUK, the organisation for the UK’s technology innovators, has cautiously welcomed Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit speech today, but said that technology businesses will need more clarity on the proposed deal before the end of this year.

The Prime Minister told EU delegates in Florence that the UK was proposing a two-year transition deal, during which it would honour all of its European commitments. In this period, the UK would retain access to the single market and freedom of movement – albeit via the French model, in which EU citizens have to register for work in the country. The move was presumably designed to neutralise objections from Paris.

“The Prime Minister’s proposal provides some clarity to UK tech businesses that have been planning for a Brexit cliff-edge in 2019,” said techUK deputy CEO, Antony Walker. “It is welcome that such a transition is intended to be along the same rules as the current UK/EU relationship.”

However, Walker warned the Prime Minister that UK technology companies have consistently called for a transition period of at least three years. Instead, the UK has suggested a two-year process that is timed to coincide with the next EU budget – apparently in a bid to smooth relationships with Europe rather than make life easy for itself.

“If the government is committed to a two-year transition, then it must adjust its, and the public’s, ambitions accordingly. Creative solutions are important, but the time to deliver them is rapidly disappearing,” he said.

“In reality, a two-year transition would provide very little time to meet the government’s objective of a smooth Brexit. It leaves only a small window to allow businesses to implement the changes they will need to make, based on the final deal, and places an unrealistic timeframe on efforts to put in place new technologies to reduce friction in customs and immigration post-Brexit.

“While further clarity around the Government’s wider position is welcome, the commitment to a two-year transition makes it even more important that rapid progress is made in the negotiations.

“The negotiations that were once viewed as a marathon now must be a sprint.”

• In August 2017, techUK argued for ongoing UK involvement in the European Investment Bank and European Investment Fund, both of which have benefited the country’s tech innovators. It highlighted the UK’s position as the European leader in securing VC and equity financing, with the vast majority flowing to technology businesses. 

Meanwhile, a new RSA report on UK robotics and AI, published this week, contains an alarming statistic for the UK’s technology sector: buried in the small print is the finding that up to 80 per cent of the UK’s investment in robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) comes from Europe. The figures were supplied by the Science and Technology Select Committee.

Post-Brexit, much of that funding may be in doubt.

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