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UK-EU Brexit deal passes Commons with six-month data adequacy bridge

IT industry trade body TechUK has welcomed a six-month data adequacy bridge, in the wake of the EU-UK trade deal that the House of Commons has voted for

The House of Commons has voted by 521 votes to 73, a majority of 448, to approve legislation to pass the EU-UK post-Brexit deal that was announced on Christmas Eve into UK law.

A bridging period of up to six months has also been agreed to ratify a data adequacy agreement to allow for the continued free flow of personal data between the UK and EU.

Data adequacy is an EU process to certify that a country, or a sector within a country, meets equivalent standards to EU rules on data protection.

According to Bloomberg, whose reporter Stephanie Bodoni spoke to an EU official familiar with the talks, the trade deal -- the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement -- includes an interim solution with respect to adequacy for a maximum of six months.*

TechUK CEO Julian David welcomed the reported bridge. “TechUK and the wider tech sector have been highlighting the importance of a data adequacy agreement since the day after the 2016 referendum,” he said.

“Data adequacy is so important, not just because of the economic costs of failing to reach an agreement, estimated to be around £1.6bn to the UK economy, but because of the high level of integration between UK and EU tech companies, a partnership which this year has helped achieve a record $41bn invested in UK and European companies.

“It is vital that the UK government and European Commission work at speed to finalise the process in order to give businesses certainty and to allow the UK to move on to a new phase of collaboration with industry and stakeholders in the development of data policies that support high standards and the innovative use of data to improve public services and the growth of the tech sector,” added David.

“The bridging period will also allow the UK government to work with the sector to finalise any new tools available to UK companies that will complement a data adequacy agreement with the EU to support access to global data flows.”

The Commons approved the deal just one day before the UK was due to exit the “transition period” whereby it had continued to follow EU rules in exchange for the status quo ante Brexit, which officially took place on 31 January 2020.

The European Union (Future Relationship) Bill upon which MPs voted contains agreements of import to the UK IT community. The trade deal it is based on does not cover services, which accounts for around 80% of the UK economy.

Nevertheless, it is worth picking out a few elements of the deal, from an IT industry perspective. Tariff and quota-free access to each party’s markets is the spine of the deal. But UK nationals will no longer have the freedom to work, study, start a business or live in the EU. Nor will it be possible for UK business travellers or, say, IT consultants on short-term engagements to work in the EU without a visa.

In relation to science, the UK will continue to take part in the €80bn Horizon Europe programme as an associate for seven years. But in education, Great Britain is now out of the Erasmus university exchange programme – students in Northern Ireland can still access the scheme, thanks to an intervention by the Irish government.

British students will be able to use a new scheme, named after Alan Turing, the Cambridge-educated Mathematician whom the UK state chemically castrated in 1952, following a homosexuality conviction, in the decade after he had played a leading role in the code-breaking efforts at Bletchley Park.

With respect to security, the UK will not be a full member of Europol. There is an agreement for the continued use by the UK and the EU of the Passenger Name Records system and the Prüm database of fingerprints, DNA and car number plates.

*Postscript: The bridge agreement can be found at Final Provision 10.a (FINPROV 10.A) – pp 405 - 408 of the UK-EU TCA agreement.

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