Using girl-power to build a post-Brexit Digital British Empire

Will Britain’s path into the future be opened up by the Digital Pirateers of Plymouth as much as by their new Pilgrim Fathers? I thoroughly enjoyed the discussions last week around the launch of STEM Plymouth . These showed a City with a more joined up approach to building its future than I have seen anywhere else.

The discussion on the need to need to identify and enlist teenage talent talent before it goes to the dark side was a lot more practical than most – looking at all sides from the promotion of attractive and challenging on-line schools competitions linked to the Cyber Security Challenge through ideas for police cyber cadets and naval cyber reservists.

But it started me thinking at tangents – beginning with my blog for Brexit Day

The British Empire had its roots in 1570 when the Pope excommunicated Elizabeth thus expelling England and Wales from the Catholic Common market of the day. The Pirateers of Plymouth, based well away from London, proceeded to open up their own access. Then the Pilgrim Fathers demonstrated that start-up colonies in North America could pay their way: a shipment of beaver furs, resulting from trade with the Indians, arrived from the struggling colony when the Thirty Years war had destroyed the European supply of furs.

The timescales will be shorter this century. Hopefully, there will also be less violence. But we can see Brexit following a similar process – now that the EU has fatally weakened its collective negotiating position by opening the first of the bilateral nation-to-nation negotiations: Spanish access to UK fishing waters in return for an open border with Gibraltar.

The negotiations on matters digital will soon open up more complex rifts, such as between:

  • those who give priority to the need for effective global co-operation to address the rising tide of cyber-crime and fear of cyber-assisted terrorism


  • those obsessed with enforcing byzantine processes, such as the GDPR which helps fraudsters to target the customers of those who report breaches.

Of course we should aim to keep freedom of movement for those who have job offers (as per the Treaty of Rome)  but the strength of the UK negotiating position will depend almost entirely on how well we move from dependence on imported talent to growing our own. Plymouth is showing the way. But it is will not be enough unless London copies the joined up approach of the West Country – including toward the “other half” of the talent pool.

The centenary of the birth of  Joan Clarke , briefly engaged to Alan Turing and one of the few people at Bletchley on the same intellectual wavelength, gives an ideal excuse for enlisting girl-power and the spirit of Bletchley Park (and Boudicca and Britannia) to not only make the UK the safest place to go on-line but to place it at the heart of global digital security – transforming the UK approach from timid, reactive, information security and sclerotic, silo’d, criminal law processes to robust international privateering (under civil law) to identity, track, trace and “remove” predators and “recover” what they have stolen.

Let me know if you are interested in not only sponsoring memorial plaques to Joan Clarke, (including on her old school in West Norwood), but also in activities (perhaps linked to the Cyber Security Challenge) to help recruit the necessary teenage talent to transform our approach to on-line safety and security.

P.S. The next meeting of the Digital Policy Alliance sub-group looking at Security Skills Partnerships is on 5th March. Please e-mail the membership secretary if you wish to join.