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The UK government has unveiled its whitepaper for forming a new partnership with the European Union (EU) post-Brexit, which includes work on maintaining industry standards alignment and data sharing.
But, as expected, the key proposal set out by the government relates to immigration, with an emphasis on border control. “We will design our immigration system to ensure that we are able to control the numbers of people who come here from the EU,” the whitepaper said. “In future, therefore, the Free Movement Directive will no longer apply and the migration of EU nationals will be subject to UK law.
“We will create an immigration system that allows us to control numbers and encourage the brightest and the best to come to this country, as part of a stable and prosperous future with the EU and our European partners.”
But the whitepaper – The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union – lacked detail on how the country will cope with skills shortfalls and the use of the Tier 2 sponsorship regime to hire non-UK nationals.
Although it has proposed a clampdown on immigration, the government has said it also wants to maintain close ties with European research. “As we exit the EU, we would welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research and technology initiatives,” it said.
In the whitepaper, the government recognised the importance of standards to support open business. As Computer Weekly has reported previously, this is one of the areas that TechUK, the industry body for the UK tech industry, discussed recently. TechUK wants UK laws to remain aligned with those of Europe to facilitate digital services.
Although the European Standards Organisations are not EU bodies, the whitepaper points out that they have a special status in the EU. The government has proposed that the British Standards Institute should aim to keep standards compliant with those of the EU.
“Approximately 25% of published European standards have, in part, and while still voluntary, been developed by the European Standards Organisations as a result of requests from the European Commission,” the whitepaper said. “This subset of standards provides businesses with a way of demonstrating compliance with EU product laws, such as with respect to gas appliance rules.
“We are working with BSI to ensure that our future relationship with the European Standards Organisations continues to support a productive, open and competitive business environment in the UK.”
Looking at the services market, the government said the Single Market for services is not complete. It highlighted the significance of the EU Digital Single Market, which it said “seeks to remove barriers to businesses wanting to provide services across borders, or to establish a company in another EU member state, through a range of horizontal and sector-specific legislation”.
It continued: “This includes the mutual recognition of professional qualifications. The EU’s Digital Single Market measures are designed to ensure the regulatory environment keeps pace with the evolving digital economy.”
In the whitepaper, the government discussed a proposed services agreement for trade for an effective system of civil judicial cooperation to provide certainty and protection for citizens and businesses in the UK. “The EU is a party to negotiations on the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) with more than 20 other countries,” it said. “The UK continues to be committed to an ambitious TiSA and will play a positive role throughout the negotiations.”
Electronic communications, privacy and cyber crime
Looking at the EU’s Electronic Communications Framework, which promotes competition and choice, the government said it wants to ensure that UK telecoms companies can continue to trade as freely and competitively as possible with the EU and allow European companies to do the same in the UK.
Regarding data and privacy, the government noted that the stability of data transfer is important for many sectors – including financial services, tech and energy companies, given that EU rules support data flows among member states. In the whitepaper, the government recognised the need for data stability and highlighted an ongoing EU consultation about the free flow of data, which includes considering whether legislation is necessary to limit member states’ requirements for data to be stored nationally.
The government said the European Commission is able to recognise data protection standards in third countries as being essentially equivalent to those in the EU, which means EU companies can transfer data to those countries freely. “As we leave the EU, we will seek to maintain the stability of data transfer between EU member states and the UK,” the whitepaper said.
However, the UK’s controversial Investigatory Powers Act could be an impediment to achieving an adequacy agreement for free data exchanges with the EU post-Brexit, Eduardo Ustaran, partner and European head of data protection at law firm Hogan Lovells, told Computer Weekly in April.
Referencing cyber crime, the whitepaper said the UK would continue to cooperate on cyber security with its European and global allies. “We will continue to work closely with international partners to build capability in countering cyber threats and to ensure the continuation of a free, open, peaceful and secure cyber space,” it said.
Commenting on the proposals, TechUK CEO Julian David said: “This whitepaper is a step forward, but many questions remain. With just 260 days left until the UK leaves the European Union, there is still a lack of clarity on many areas of importance for the tech sector. For those providing digital services, far more detail is needed to assess the future impact on their businesses.
“The government accepts its approach will mean that UK-based tech firms will not have the current levels of access to EU markets in the future. Increased friction in trade has a direct impact on jobs and investment. There is currently little evidence that export losses to the EU can be quickly offset by new trade deals with other countries.”