Tech entrepreneurs back a people’s vote on Brexit

Tech leaders say they support a public vote on the UK’s Brexit deal.
18 June 2018

The loss of access to European funds, the flight of talent which powers UK tech companies due to the uncertainty and scandal around immigration are some of the factors are adversely affecting the UK Tech industry. Source: Shutterstock

Last week around 55,000 attendees descended on London for the city’s annual Technology Week.

Alongside innovation, Brexit, inevitably, was also on the agenda.

Tech entrepreneurs, innovator, and leaders took the week-long festival as an opportunity to call on the government to back a meaningful vote by the public on the terms of the forthcoming Brexit deal.

Over 80 UK technology and innovation leaders signed up as supporters of new tech business group Tech For UK. The group plans to work closely with pro-EU organization Best for Britain to campaign against Britain’s exit from the EU.

Joiners of Tech For UK included the head of mobile at Deloitte Digital, the co-founder of Expressly and the director of web advocacy and open source at Samsung Research UK.

Mike Butcher, co-founder of TechHub, a hub for tech startups, and co-organiser of the new organization, said it was launched to address issues around Brexit that are adversely affecting the UK tech industry.

“The loss of access to European funds, the flight of talent which powers UK tech companies due to the uncertainty and scandal around immigration, the loss of access to the Digital Single Market, which was never consulted over — all of these factors are adversely affecting the UK Tech industry,” he said.

The European Investment Bank, which backs a majority of Britain’s venture capital (VC) funds, has slashed deals with UK VC and private equity groups by more than two-thirds, the group said, with no equivalent funding from the UK government promised.

Britain is due to leave the EU in March 2019. Negotiations about the terms the country will leave on have been ongoing, and wrangling continues in parliament, which is increasingly divided over who should have a say on the final Brexit deal, specifically the details of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.

However, members of Tech For UK say they are already feeling the effects of Brexit.

Ed Dean, CEO of Woodseer Global, says he has clients making London-based teams redundant as they move whole divisions to Ireland.

“We are a small nation of 65m and I do not believe we are strong or powerful enough to go it alone in a rapidly globalizing world,” he added.

Yet, despite the fears laid out by Tech For UK and others, there have been new and significant investments in Britain’s tech sector.

Last week, the Prime Minster announced that technology firms are to invest more than GDP2 billion (US$2.65 billion) in the country, creating 1,600 new jobs.

To further support the sector, the government has given GBP300 million (US$3.97 million) of newly allocated funding for AI research to attract private equity.

Speaking to the BBC, UK tech industry body, Tech UK, welcomed the government’s continued support of the industry, including new start-up visas to encourage those with good ideas to come to the UK.

But added for larger tech firms there remain ‘serious concerns’ around Tier 2 visas.

“We understand that approximately 1,000 tech workers with job offers were refused visas between December 2017 and March 2018. This is a handbrake on economic growth and needs to be urgently addressed,” the industry body’s deputy chief executive Antony Walker said.

There’s no doubt that Brexit creates uncertainty for all sectors, including tech, and business hate the unknown. Yet London remains, for now, a strong city for digital investment.

A Mayor of London commissioned report into AI innovation in the capital, called “London: The AI Growth Capital of Europe”, states that the rate of new AI supplier formation in London is 42 percent per annum, compared to the global rate of 24 percent per annum.

However, the same report also says that 42 percent of London AI suppliers are co-founded by non-UK nationals.

The full impact of Brexit can’t be known yet. But it’s clear there are issues that need to be addressed if Britain’s tech sector is to properly thrive, ones that Brexit, which is likely to stop the free movement of EU members, will only exacerbate.