What do YOU want the impact of Brexit to be? Juncker is right to call for clarity

In my previous blog I took a look at the likely short to medium term effect of Brexit on the ICT industry. I should have asked what readers WANT the impact of Brexit to be. I should then have asked who is willing to work together to ensure that is what happens.  Juncker’s call for “immediate clarity”  as to what Britain wants may have been unreasonable and unrealistic but a similar call for long term-clarity is not.

The tensions that led, over time, to the pressure for a referendum were caused by “confusion” as to the nature of the relationship with the rest of Europe to which the British electorate thought it had signed up. We have seen the failure of the attempt to conflate the Benelux  one-way drive for “ever closer union” with the Anglo-Saxon and Nordic desire for an open, globally competitive, “single market”. The underlying psychological agendas are different but should not be totally incompatible.

Instead of a hasty and bitter divorce, resulting in the worst of all worlds for both sides, we should therefore seek to agree an amicable separation which enables both agendas to be progressed in parallel – while recognizing and accepting the differences and tensions between them. Those who want the UK to “pay a price” for having the temerity to hold a referendum which showed that the majority of the population did not want “ever closer union” without reform, should note that the French and German stock markets went down by more than London. The “confusion” over objectives is not combined to the UK. All parts of Europe will pay a price if we do not work together towards a more constructive solution.

Yesterday the Digital Single Market group of the Digital Policy Alliance rapidly agreed the final draft of its submission to the Commission on Cloud Computing policy (one of the main points being the need for clarity of terminology). It then moved on to discuss the implications of the Brexit vote and the way forward. I will not attempt to reprise the discussion, let alone Malcolm Harbour’s  summing up. The meeting report will shortly be available to DPA members  and observers. The main action was to agree to organize a round table on 20th July to discuss what the members really want and how to achieve it.

In the meantime, the most important themes that I personally took away from the meeting were:

  • Triage – we need to identify:
    1. those areas where Brexit may be used to excuse delay but which are outside the purlieu of the EU or where the problems are to do with UK implementation not the EU agreements,
    2. those which are within the purlieu of the EU where members do not want change, because they are happy with what has happened or is planned, and
    3. those where change is desirable.
  • Business as usual: we should continue to constructively input to relevant consultations and discussions via current channels, in “ever closer co-operation” with those in other member states who share the objective of creating a globally competitive single market.
  • Those serious about wanting a truly symbiotic, ongoing relationship between the UK and the EU should be encouraged to join DPA, ideally in time to participate in the round table which Malcolm will be chairing on 20th  July to discuss and agree action plans.

Triage is not as difficult as it first appears. The bulk of the preparation necessary was done in support of the Competences review . Unfortunately the results were ignored by all sides during the referendum debate. They did not fit comfortably with the cases either side was making. The results should, however, give a head start to the new Whitehall team working on exit strategy   It will help greatly that team if industry players help identify the areas where they believe action is not needed.

“Business as usual” may be harder– given the number of headless chickens creating chaos in the farmyard, running round the sacred cows, some of which have been lying in the path of progress for decades. It might be helpful, to give one example, were IT industry players to define what they mean by “freedom of movement”. Do they really mean “freedom to move to take up a job or contract with a reputable employer”. If so this fits with the Treaty of Rome and the Commission red line. It is also compatible with the demands of those who want to deter immigration by blocking access to publicly funded education, healthcare, housing and welfare to those who have not paid local taxes for a given period and/or do not have an employer who will under-write their application. It does, however, imply the slaughter of some British sacred cows – such as “universal access” to the type of benefits which, in other member states (and other parts of the world), are based on local or regional “residency”. In short, “business as usual” requires an intellectual discipline and attention to detail that has so far been missing.

Hence the headline for this blog and the call for those who are serious about using the opportunity of Brexit to build a more coherent relationship with the EU to join the Digital Policy Alliance and help the Digital Single Market Group do so.