Act fast to get post-Brexit data deal, Brit biz urges

Last major data deal between EU and third country took 4 years

The UK is risking a data economy worth £240bn if it doesn’t secure a “simple” transition deal that minimises disruption of data flows after Brexit, the Confederation of British Industry will warn today.

According to the body - which represents UK businesses - the government has made the right noises about data protection policy, but now needs to ensure the country doesn’t fall off a “data cliff-edge” when Britain leaves the European Union.

In comments due to be made at the CBI’s national cyber security conference in London, deputy director-general Josh Hardie will urge the government to "quickly” deliver on its promises to ensure unhindered data flows after Brexit.

The UK has signed up to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into force on 25 May 2018 - less than one year before the UK is due to exit the bloc - and the planned Data Protection Bill will aim to put many of those regs onto the UK’s statue book.

However, with masses of data flows between the UK and EU on a daily basis, and without the right agreement in place for the day after Brexit, that tap may be turned off. The CBI - and many others - have warned this would do immense damage to firms on both sides of the Channel, with Hardie valuing the UK’s data economy at £240bn.

The Conservative government last month released a statement on its intentions for data-sharing post-Brexit, which stated it would seek a deal that goes beyond the existing adequacy model the EU has with other non-EU nations, in which the EU certifies that a country provides the right standard of protection.

Most observers see seeking an adequacy decision as the right move, especially given how heavily integrated the EU and UK’s systems already are. The problem, though, is that no adequacy decision can be made until the UK leaves the bloc.

“Unless the Brexit negotiations find another way, getting such a deal would mean first becoming a ‘third country’,” Hardie is expected to say. This means the UK will need a deal in place for “when the clock strikes midnight on March 29 2019”.

“We need a bridge… which keeps things simple, minimises disruption and maximises continuity.

“Without this vital bridge, firms risk being left with no legal certainty when transferring and processing data”, and are in danger of hitting hardest the smaller firms, “who are already finding the transition tough”.

In addition, the government needs to ensure any deal for data sharing after Brexit is clearly understood, Hardie will add.

“We currently have clear data laws based on clear agreement with the EU. But with no deal on Brexit, that certainty disappears.

“Without a firm legal basis for data processing, we risk leaving business leaders scratching their heads, facing fines on one hand and extra costs to comply on the other.”

The CBI, which backed the Remain camp, is calling on the government to make sure there is “the right transition deal on data in place that will protect our data-driven businesses, that is part of a wider transition deal”.

In a bid to head off such concerns, one of the extras the government has indicated it wanted is an “early” agreement from the EU that the pair would recognise each other’s data protection frameworks.

But getting this isn’t likely to be straightforward, not least because as a non-EU member, the UK will lose some of the exemptions it currently enjoys. This will, for instance, mean the UK’s controversial data retention and surveillance measures - covered by national security exemptions at the moment - will fall under closer scrutiny.

Hardie will say that business “stands ready to do what it can” to ensure there is continuity after Brexit: “Now we’re calling on the UK government to do the same.”

And, if that’s the carrot, Hardie’s stick is to note: “The last major data deal between the EU and a third country was with New Zealand and that took four years. We don’t have four years.

“We can’t afford to wait for that deal to be made because businesses are facing decisions today.” ®

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