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UK will need data protection agreement with EU as part of Brexit deal, says PM

Prime minister Theresa May's Brexit speech highlights need for data protection deal with EU, “advanced” border IT systems, and re-confirms UK won’t be part of the EU digital single market

In her latest Brexit speech, prime minister Theresa May said the UK wants to secure a data protection agreement with the EU, ensuring “stability and confidence” post-Brexit.

Setting out her plans for the future partnership between the UK and the EU, May highlighted the need for ensuring a data protection deal is in place between the UK and the EU.

She added that the “free flow of data” is “critical for both sides”.

“The UK has exceptionally high standards of data protection. We want to secure an agreement with the EU that provides the stability and confidence for EU and UK business and individuals to achieve our aims in maintaining and developing the UK’s strong trading and economic links with the EU,” she said.

The government has previously said it is aiming to get an adequacy ruling from the European Commission on the UK’s data protection capabilities, by aligning UK data protection law with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as closely as possible, to ensure the unhindered flow of data between the EU and the UK post-Brexit.

However, in her speech, May said the UK wants more than that:

“We will be seeking more than just an adequacy arrangement and want to see an appropriate ongoing role for the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office,” she said. “This will ensure UK businesses are effectively represented under the EU’s new ‘one stop shop’ mechanism for resolving data protection disputes.”

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TechUK CEO Julian David said the tech industry welcomed May’s “crystal clear commitment” on data protection, and that the move to go further than the adequacy arrangement “is the right approach to support the UK’s place as a leading tech economy”.

“By close alignment on key issues like data flows coupled with world-beating regulation here at home, the UK tech sector can thrive,” he said. “However, it will be critical that mechanisms are in place to support maximum access to the EU and markets around the world for tech developed here in the UK.”

During her speech, May also reiterated that leaving the EU also means leaving the digital single market.

“On digital, the UK will not be part of the EU’s Digital Single Market, which will continue to develop after our withdrawal from the EU,” she said.

“This is a fast evolving, innovative sector, in which the UK is a world leader. So it will be particularly important to have domestic flexibility, to ensure the regulatory environment can always respond nimbly and ambitiously to new developments.”

Border IT

As part of ensuring a fair trade deal with the EU, May said she wants to ensure it’s made easy for traders on both sides by “streamlining processes” though initiatives such as “trusted traders” schemes and “drawing on the most advanced IT solutions so that vehicles do not need to stop at the border”.

Border IT is however one of the biggest tech challenges when it comes to Brexit. Of the 85 IT systems at the UK border, 30 will need to be replaced or changed, but the government has said it does not expect “all new or updated IT systems to be ready” by the time the UK leaves the EU.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is in the middle of implementing its new customs IT system, however, the department can’t guarantee it will be ready on time, and has been urged to go for a basic version of the system.

May said she recognised that some of her ideas for a future customs and trading agreement “depend on technology, robust systems to ensure trust and confidence, and goodwill,” but that “they are serious and merit consideration by all sides”.

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