Tech firms 'can stop Brexit, but only if they want to'

Best for Britain call on the tech industry to unite and challenge the EU referendum

The technology industry has eight months to reverse Brexit, according to a pro-European Union campaign group, but the question is, does it want to?

The UK government has until March 2019 to secure deals with the EU that will go someway to outline what a post-Brexit future will look like. Until then, the effects of leaving the EU are largely unknown.

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Speaking at a panel event for the Europas in London on Tuesday, Eloise Todd, the chief executive officer for political transparency campaign Best for Britain, called on the UK tech industry to fight against Brexit before it loses its influence.

"I appeal to the techies to look beyond your own remits, which will inevitably get harder," she said. "It doesn't matter if you have a so-called 'soft' Brexit where the rules don't really change, because the UK will have absolutely no say on them.

"Even the best case scenario, where it doesn't collapse economically, we would still have very little influence which is quite important for people in the tech industry."

Todd said that it is a little-known fact that the UK does have the right, until the end of March next year, to choose to not go ahead if we do not reach a satisfactory deal.

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"You've got another eight months and if you want to mitigate Brexit after that, you'll have decades, but you have eight months now to try and get and hold onto the deal we negotiated 40-years-ago," she said. 

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One of the biggest problems with Brexit, certainly something that makes it is such a dividing topic, is that it is unclear what life outside of the EU will be like. There are no definitive numbers for the economy, jobs or hiring overseas talents after the UK leaves.

Wendy Tan White MBE is an experienced entrepreneur and investor and said that whatever the effects of Brexit, the UK just have to "deal with it".

"I graduated in a downturn, I went through the dot.com crash and the financial crisis," she said. "My business collapsed in the dot.com crash and grew in the financial crisis, those external factors happen so you just get down and you deal with it."

She added that there were positive signs with the amount of venture capital that the UK's innovative tech sector attracts. According to data compiled for London & Partners by Pitchbook, the UK was Europe's leading country for global tech investors in 2017, with British tech firms attracting more venture capital funding than any other European country.

"In 2017 5.9 billion of capital came into the UK, which is double 2016," White added. "At the moment there is still an awful lot of capital coming in because we produce great talent and good RND and AI startups."

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Suzanne Ashman, a partner with LocalGlobe, also highlighted the amount of investment but stressed that it had been made despite the lack of clarity around the exit from the EU.

"We've got to remember that all of the LPs put in cash during 2017 and they are only looking for returns, probably in ten to twelve years," she said. "So, they are doing that knowing the cash probably won't get back to them for well after the Brexit process has been gone through.

"We don't know exactly what the deal is going to look like but there are some obvious things you can do right now, that is likely to help, like setting up subsidiaries in other countries."

Julian Saunders, leader of PORT.im, a platform to help businesses comply with GDPR, offered a more optimistic outlook siting his small businesses ambition.

"We are very adventurous in what we are trying to do and are very dependent on what talent we can get on board," he said.

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"By the very nature of what we do, we have chosen to be at a point of massive change, we are not hidden away inside some large enterprise, we don't have a protective umbrella of pensions and a comfortable life. We chose to be out there because we believe we can contribute to making a better world."

Picture: Shutterstock

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