Money’s short, times are hard, here’s your Brexit Christmas card

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Sometimes the medium is the message and the backstory is the story. Here is one.

At the beginning of December, 10 Downing Street ran a campaign of media pushes for its Brexit deal, with one major sector targeted per day. December 1 was designated as the day for the tech and digital sector, when we would be told why losing our legal foundation, client markets, and employees would be in our interest.

Naturally, it didn’t go to plan, as Politics interfered with politics.

From that false start, DCMS was free to unleash a media push consisting of the usual half-hearted, tubthumping platitudes completely devoid of substance or detail.

It fell to the momentary Secretary of State for Digital, Jeremy Wright QC, a man who was proud to reject the internet and all its works until it became his job, to put his name to the push. He didn’t use DCMS’s own real estate on to sell the deal, or any of the open source publishing platforms available to him at any time. Instead, he chose to make his push from behind a premium paywall in the Telegraph, a broadsheet which has lurched so far to the hard right that someone best described it as having cut a line of Thatcher’s ashes and snorted it, and which precisely no-one in the tech industry reads as a source of news.

Screen capture of the media push from behind a premium paywall, published with all the sincerity of a story queued for 12:01 AM

You may think I’m being flippant here, but I am not. Because here’s the thing.

Government ministers should not be making official policy statements on any subject from behind premium newspaper paywalls.

Not now.

Not ever.

Not on any subject.

Not when the future of an industry is at stake.

And not, absolutely not, when the person making the announcement is under a moral obligation to show leadership of the industry he claims to lead by using the tools they create to speak to them on their level.

So what did the paywalled announcement have to say? Well, unless you hand your personal data over to the Telegraph to be exploited through their shiteous interpretation of “legitimate interests”, or pay for a subscription, the official policy statement on your future is not available to you.

Unless, of course, you’re a geek, and you view source on mobile, cut and paste the code into your notetaking app of choice, and strip away a few dozen formatting tags to read it.

Click to read the full statement

Reflecting the UK’s strengths as world leader in technological innovation, our future relationship with the EU will include new arrangements on digital and data – supporting these fast-evolving, creative sectors and helping to build the best conditions for new digital businesses to start-up and scale-up.

These specific arrangements will cover a wide range of areas including e-commerce, telecoms and emerging technologies which together highlight the increasing importance of digital trade globally.

Earlier this week we published statistics showing the vital contribution the digital and tech industries make to our economy. They are worth more than £130 billion to the UK annually. The latest figures also show we exported more than £18 billion of digital services to the EU in 2016 and imported close to £11 billion. The trade body for the industry techUK has backed our deal alongside global tech giants such as Microsoft.

At the heart of the deal are commitments to make sure the millions of firms which rely on the instant exchange of data across national borders have confidence they will be able to trade without restrictions.

Data is the lifeblood of the digital economy and thanks to it and the use of online platforms we’ve seen huge improvements in how we travel, do our shopping and access our banks. This means our holiday booking is straightforward, we have greater choice in online shopping, and companies can provide services to their clients at ultra-fast speed.

We estimate three-quarters of the UK’s service exports to the EU rely on data flows, so it is absolutely essential this continues unhindered post Brexit.

It’s not just tech firms that rely on data flows. It underpins businesses big and small and in every sector of the economy – from video games makers to fintech companies, mail order firms to manufacturers. Many companies are now dependent on services such as cloud computing to power their services, while others use data to programme and test new technology to solve problems we will face in the future – from an ageing society to curing disease. And those businesses want certainty.

The deal negotiated by the Prime Minister not only delivers certainty, but it also sets out new and specific arrangements on digital and data.

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica and other data scandals which have raised public concern, it reaffirms our commitment to high data protection standards. The UK and the EU have agreed to put in place arrangements on personal data so it is protected and can be processed safely and securely. This means that once the implementation period is over, we can continue to reap the economic benefits that come from the free flow of data.

This deal will guarantee open and liberalised telecoms markets and prevent anti-competitive practices, including from major suppliers, to give both consumers and business access to the digital infrastructure they rely on to operate across the world.

With its commitment to protect against unjustified barriers to digital trade and create an open and secure online environment, we are confident the deal delivers on our promises to help new technologies evolve and encourage innovation in the economy.

I don’t know what sort of professors you had, but I would have failed any course where I tried to pass that off as the sum total of what I had to offer.

Now, let’s be fair. The announcement was not only covered in the Telegraph. It was also covered in, uh, Computer Weekly, Government Computing, and Further Education News. (No, me neither.)

Those PR-ified announcements carried endorsement quotes from three bodies – you know the ones, the usual suspects – which are either funded by government, or are so materially and structurally close to government, that they do not qualify as legitimate independent groups, no matter how badly they try to pretend otherwise. One of them was mentioned in the Telegraph statement, leading Sky’s Rowland Manthorpe to correctly pick up on the real story of the media push – ably assisted by Mike Butcher – which was DCMS choosing what it wants to hear, choosing who it wants to hear from, and choosing where it wants to hold that conversation.

As for DCMS tagging organisations which are vehemently against its Brexit plan in its promotional tweets, as if to imply that those organisations were thumping the tub in an approved manner? It would have been headline news in a more innocent era, like 2016. Not now.

That, then, is your Christmas card from Brexit Britain. And you’re tired, and drained, and worn out, and resigned to defeat. But you need to open up a can of I Ain’t Having This and keep going, because your industry is being driven towards a cliff by Jeremy Wright and his sycophants, and if what you’ve read above doesn’t make you angry for your sector’s future, you’re as unqualified to work in tech as they are.

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The Author

I’m a UK tech policy wonk based in Glasgow. I work for an open web built around international standards of human rights, privacy, accessibility, and freedom of expression. The content and opinions on this site are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of any current or previous team.