Opinion

European tech SMEs and start-ups must think beyond Brexit

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The UK government and the European Union are on a dangerous path, heading towards a No Deal Brexit. With supermarkets talking about totally changing international suppliers in time for October, and British and European politicians refusing to budge in negotiations, it feels as if it is becoming unavoidable. The UK government’s Operation Yellowhammer leaks show what is at stake.

If No Deal is going to happen, governments on both sides of the Brexit divide must safeguard our thriving European tech industry – and the seamless international integration upon which it depends. The digital industries are 21st century Britain’s main success story. So far this year, UK tech companies have received record breaking foreign investment, worth 5.5 billion UK pounds.

And this is as much a British achievement as it is an international one. Britain has a dynamic regulatory environment which has helped create a thriving tech economy in London. The intelligent regulations of the Financial Conduct Authority, the government’s enthusiasm for open data, and competitive taxes have helped international ideas and investment flood into the UK.

But it has also thrived thanks to cooperation with Europe, and to a huge influx of talented entrepreneurs, engineers, and developers from Europe. Meanwhile Europe’s tech economy has thrived thanks to the UK; people, money, ideas, and innovation have moved around the continent and have grown, and many businesses in our coalition could not have grown without this virtuous cycle.

This is not just about tech engineers freely moving between co-working spaces in Europe’s capital cities. This is about ideas and innovations that we all benefit from as consumers and citizens, ranging from new and disruptive banks, to music streaming or video games, and innovations in healthcare. We have customers in Europe and in the UK. We implore the British and EU governments not to put up barriers between them due to mutual political intransigence.

It is clear that Boris Johnson has renewed the British government’s enthusiasm for Brexit, with a circle of advisers who were instrumental in the Brexit campaign. But the prime minister’s announcement to liberalise immigration rules for top scientists is a sign that the government may be about to take the open and liberal approach to the post-Brexit economy that the tech industry – and many others – needs. This is welcome.

The prime minister’s senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, knows how important it is to cultivate an innovative tech industry. He understands how it is dependent on multiple, international factors. We welcome the prime pinister’s guarantees of residence to the millions of Europeans living in the UK, deal or no deal. But the key issue is that a good tech policy is a good growth policy. If Britain’s economy is to thrive after Brexit, it must prioritise measures which are pro-innovation, pro-growth, and pro-startups.

The UK and EU nations must consider how best to build on the successes of our tech industries throughout Brexit; they should act quickly to make sure the tech industry in all of Europe continues to thrive, by agreeing to keep collaborating on key areas, such as open data, delivering 5G, simplifying regulations wherever possible, supporting training in tech and AI, and making sure future immigration policies welcome risk-taking entrepreneurs, to set up the next TransferWise, Deliveroo, or Monzo.

We have spent years gradually pulling down barriers between our economies, and this has helped small businesses and entrepreneurs, just as it has helped multinationals. We cannot turn back on this now, when the whole of Europe is wrestling not just with Brexit, but also poor growth and declining confidence.

The British people voted for Brexit, and Brexit is happening. As European business leaders we don’t want to say goodbye to our British friends, customers and colleagues. We hope that the UK government and the EU remember how we have benefited from collaboration, and think beyond October and to how we should work together in the future.

This article was co-written by Lauri Helenius, senior vice president of Solita.

About the author

Christian Walther Øyrabø

Christian Walther Øyrabø

Christian Walther Øyrabø is chairman of Autovice and former chairman of the Danish Entrepreneurs Association.

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