D-day for Brexit deal - here are some of the digital issues hanging in the balance

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez January 14, 2019
It’s been almost 3 years since the result of the EU referendum. The UK is set to leave the EU on the 29th March. However, there seems no clear path for Brexit.

Brexit EU

The day is finally here. After almost two years of negotiations and a lengthy delay in proceedings, Parliament is now ready to have a say on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.

However, unfortunately for Theresa May, it looks as though the deal is set for a heavy defeat, with members of the House from all parties set to vote against it. It seems as though the Prime Minister has managed the impossible, by uniting the country against her vision of Brexit.

Where the UK goes from here, if the deal is voted down, is hard to know. As it stands, the UK is set to leave the EU on the 29th of March. As such, if Parliament can’t agree on the terms of a withdrawal from the EU, the chances of a ‘no deal’ scenario look more likely and the UK will fall on trading on WTO terms.

However, the majority of MPs don’t want that to happen. As a result, there’s a number of other scenarios that could play out. The Prime Minister could go back to Brussels to seek further concessions, which could lead to a second (or even a third) vote in the House of Commons - if it was thought that a deal could eventually be passed.

But this could be thwarted depending on the scale of the Prime Minister’s defeat today.

And then there is also the opposition party, Labour, waiting in the wings, threatening to table a motion of no confidence in the government, which if successful, could lead to another general election.

If that were to happen, the question is, will a party campaign on looking to secure a second referendum? Or will Labour, if it won a general election, look to secure a new deal with the EU? Or if the Conservative Party won another general election, does this give May’s deal a fresh mandate to pass through the Commons? Or should it ultimately be left up to the people to decide in a second referendum if May’s deal/no deal/remaining in the EU is the best outcome?

Simply put, the only thing we can be fairly certain of today is that May’s current Brexit deal will fail. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. And in the meantime, there are a number digital issues, impacting both Whitehall and the UK, that hang in the balance, hoping for some certainty.

We at diginomica/government have been covering the impact of Brexit since the EU referendum was announced and have been scrutinising the fallout since its result in June 2016. Given today is of critical importance, we thought it may be useful to highlight some of the key themes.

Whitehall prepares

One of the key implications of the Brexit vote has been that Whitehall departments have been spending a significant amount of time and resources in preparing for the UK’s exit from the EU. One of the key challenges, as expected, is that departments are preparing for unknown scenarios. In addition, some departments are being heavily impacted by a potential withdrawal - either becomes their systems are so intertwined with the EU, or because new systems need to be built to handle a new operating model for the UK (e.g. borders). Here are some of the stories in recent months that highlight the challenges facing departments:

A hiring spree

Unsurprisingly, given the amount of work involved in preparing for exiting the EU, government departments have also been on the hunt for new digital leaders to manage the transition and get government and systems ready. Here are just a few of the posts that have become available in recent months:

Skills and visas

The Home Office is one of the departments in Whitehall that is being heavily impacted by the Brexit decision, given that there is likely to be a change in how the UK controls its borders and operates its visa system. British tech companies have been calling for the cap on Tier-2 visas to be scrapped, as they have struggled to recruit and fill positions - which was finally suggested as an option in the government’s much delayed immigration white paper. Skills has dominated debate among companies that are worried about recruiting the resources they need from the EU post-Brexit. Here are some of the stories highlighting the recent issues:

Access to EU systems, data sovereignty and impact on British companies

There has been a question mark hanging over government buyers of cloud products, with regards to data sovereignty post-Brexit. This will be impacted by any data deal agreed with the EU, but there have been arguments made by UK cloud providers that buyers would be better off ensuring that their systems are placed on UK-hosted systems, given that there are potential problems with access and data flows that lie ahead. For example, UKCloud has been investing in its British-hosted system, as it anticipates an influx of demand. CEO Simon Hansford has said:

“As a key supplier to the UK public sector, it is our duty to make the arrangements necessary to be ready for whatever Brexit is delivered. Cloud technology is now an essential enabler of digital public services and our sovereign platform is a cost-effective alternative without the risks of uncertainty. We have anticipated the impact of potential disruption to physical supply chains if border delays are experienced.

“Our additional capacity, as well as arrangements with key vendors to secure our own supply chain, ensures that datacentre, compute and storage capacity will be in place for the potential influx of customer orders.”

However, access to EU systems has also been raised as a red flag, given the information sharing that currently goes on between the UK and EU nation states to ensure enhanced security. In addition, the government has set out its guidance for e-commerce businesses under a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which may have to see UK businesses comply with 30 different countries’ regulations.