Whatever deals are agreed and compromises made during the Brexit negotiations, one thing is increasingly certain. We are leaving the European Union, whether we like it or not.
Yet, despite the fear and uncertainty that has seemed to define Brexit so far, it might just bring the change and reform that the UK technology sector needs. As the owner of a tech company in the UK, it’s important to try and take advantage of this unique and compelling opportunity.
You may not have voted for Brexit – many people in the UK did not, yet the decision has remained a hotly debated topic at dinner parties ever since. However, what is clear is that Brexit does in fact present exciting opportunities for tech companies. And the Department of International Trade (DIT) is there to help.
But why is it so important for UK tech companies to partner with the DIT and seek to export? Why is Brexit such a big deal to tech companies?
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
We are at the dawn of what is being coined the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. The first and second industrial revolutions brought us machine production and rapid industrialisation respectively, while the third was the first digital awakening. This fourth revolution will build on its digital predecessor, allowing tech to become embedded in our day-to-day lives – and even our bodies – like never before.
For the UK to keep up with these rapid developments in digital technology, it will need to collaborate and work closely with its European partners. Businesses will need to share research, new innovation, resources and even skilled workers. By partnering with DIT, UK tech companies can ensure that trade relationships and other tech suppliers across the EU are not jeopardised during the Brexit negotiations.
But let’s not forget the rest of the world. A million people go to work every day for British companies in the US and we benefit from the same US investment in the UK. It’s important not to focus entirely on the EU as opportunities exist elsewhere. Working alongside the DIT, we can broaden these opportunities and strengthen the UK’s position as a leading technology export.
Maintaining the UK’s attractiveness to students
It is no secret that a major factor in the success of UK tech is the wealth of talent that has come to the country to study and ended up staying for work. Of course, it’s not surprising that EU nationals want to study here – nine UK universities have been named among the top 50 best in the world, according the annual QS World University Ranking.
However, UK tech companies could suffer a “brain drain” if Brexit makes it harder for EU students to come and study over here, with Visas becoming more expensive and complex to obtain. UK students, too, will have to overcome the challenges of studying abroad in the EU, hindering the nation’s chance to showcase its homegrown talent and learn from other countries.
Ensuring the UK maintains its appeal to students must be priority for UK tech companies. It will be the responsibility of the DIT to ensure that the benefits of studying in the UK are trumpeted to other EU countries during negotiations and to work closely with UK and EU tech companies to provide opportunities for students to find work in the sector.
Redefining trade relationships
Brexit provides the UK government with an opportunity to rip up the old rule books concerning its trading relationships with both EU and non-EU countries, and re-establish trade deals. This presents a massive opportunity for growth, as tech companies can tap into new, valuable resources. The DIT will need to work closely with UK’s tech leaders, both big and small, to ensure that during Brexit negotiations, the needs of the UK tech scene are represented.
For UK tech to maintain its appeal to foreign investors, both EU and non-EU alike, it is crucial that the industry works closely with the DIT to ensure it is exporting the best tech products and at a price that is fair, but that also works for the UK. Otherwise, lower-cost foreign markets will get the work instead. So far, we have benefitted from many opportunities thanks to the DIT and more will no doubt follow.
Potential investment from overseas companies does exist. They want – and need – to work with us. Therefore, it is up to the DIT and tech leaders to be advocates of the UK’s prosperous tech sector, which is growing at twice the rate of the wider economy. Together, we can let companies in the EU and around the world know we are open for business.
Chris Williams, Chief Executive, B60