With top European Union and British officials working endless hours to reach an agreement on Brexit, Euronews caught up with British Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries Margot James to talk about whether the UK will remain a tech powerhouse after Brexit, data protection, and the fight against disinformation.
Speaking on the sidelines of Europe's Web Summit, James stressed that despite its exit from the EU, the UK has "absolutely no intention" of changing the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), because the British government feels “proud of adopting that piece of EU legislation”.
She also said she was confident that Brexit would not adversely affect the opportunity for tech companies to thrive in the UK.
"Our government is working on a deal to enable a smooth transition to not being part of the EU institutions but keep the UK as part of the vibrant European economy," she explained.
James added that the British tech industry would not stop needing talent from abroad after Brexit, and would continue "welcoming it from wherever it comes".
Take a look at our interview here:
The UK receives a lot of money from the EU for research in different areas including tech. What will happen when the UK exits the EU?
We’ll have to make sure that our tech industry still has the same amount of capital as it has as a member of the European Union. The UK treasury has initiated a number of schemes to fill the gap. There is what we are calling a shared prosperity fund, which will provide access to finance.
We have also allocated monies to different parts of the country, particularly the north and the midlands, where they will have French capital funds administered by the British business bank, to make sure that not just tech but all industries has access to French capital. It’s very important this is enabled.
It’s not only important for the UK, because if you look at investment in tech businesses across Europe, 20% of the finance is raised in the UK.
How will the UK keep EU tech businesses setting up shop in the UK?
You have to look at the reasons why companies want to set up in the UK.
We have a very favourable tax regime for business startups and we’re ranked in the global rankings at the third best place in the world to start a business.
We have four out of the 10 best universities in the world and there’s a huge amount of collaboration between our tech sector and the universities.
Our universities take a lot of foreign students who start businesses up with the universities after their graduation. These things are not going to change.
In the analysis of how easy it is to scale a business up and raise venture capital, researchers have compared the ease of doing that between the US, UK and the rest of the EU. The easiest is the US, the UK is about halfway between the easiness of the US and the difficulties that European companies encounter when raising finance. That’s not going to change, in fact, that’s going to improve because we are determined to make it even easier for companies to scale up in the UK.
We have regulatory environment that is the most pro-innovation across the European Union. One of the reasons why fintech (financial technology) has flourished and grown so intensely is because our financial conduct authority that regulates finance and businesses had a special experimental regulation environment for fintech businesses.
Finally, skills, I think every country in Europe has an issue with digital skills. All try to educate people so they can contribute more fully to the digital economy. We have a lot of different skills programmes going on on through schools, into universities, and apprenticeships, and post formal education to make sure that the skills are there for tech investors.
Is the UK going to keep GDPR after Brexit?
We’re proud of our data protection legislation that we brought into law May of this year. It gives our citizens far greater protection of their own data and greater privacy. It does so much good work.
Like other member states we have tailored it to our own requirements. We’ve also strengthened the powers of the information commissioner — our regulator in the UK. We are pleased to have incorporated it into UK law and we have absolutely whatsoever no intention of changing it.
It’s the first piece of proper data protection regulation that there’s been for the last 10 years so it’s a big change and you don’t introduce something of that magnitude and then tinker around with it.
Will fines for tech companies increase?
The EU instigated GDPR and gave member states the right to introduce fines of up to 4% of the global turnover of any company which is found in serious breach of the law.
The UK brought in the maximum penalty.
Of course in time there may be a need to strengthen the regulation here and there but it’s too soon to say really because it’s been about six months since it was introduced and we haven’t fully evaluated the impact yet.
In the panel you participated in about disinformation, you mentioned that governments should take the time to come up with the correct response. Could you give me concrete examples?
We are looking very actively at strengthening the law online as it pertains to the democratic process and we will be bringing in new controls to make sure that legal controls operate online and offline. We have to get that right and that’s not so difficult.
I think what governments need to tackle is the disinformation funded by campaigns by individual supporters of political parties who decide they want to manipulate public opinion and seek to do in ways against the law. We need to make sure the law keeps on top of it.