Our decision to leave the European Union puts our country’s status as a global hub for technological innovation in jeopardy, warns Daria Kantor.
The United Kingdom is a world leader in digital innovation. Last year alone saw record investment of more than $3.5bn. The sector is growing a third faster than the economy as a whole, and creating jobs at nearly three times the rate.
London is the heart of this tech movement. A recent study estimates as many as 40,000 digital technology businesses are based in the capital, up by more than 12,000 since 2010, and employing 200,000 people. Experts predict the number of businesses could surpass 50,000 within a decade.
And these tech start-ups are transforming all our lives. From banking to exercise, the proliferation of the internet and smart devices mean digital technology is reshaping the way we interact with everyday services. Today, there are apps for almost anything, from banking to booking a taxi.
But last Friday’s referendum result puts the UK’s status as a tech hub in danger. Technology is one of the most forward-looking industries and the majority of the tech community appears to be shell-shocked by the result.
A fundamental foundation upon which the industry is based is its ability to attract the best and brightest from across the globe. A magnet for the talent of all nations. Drawn in by our world leading universities and generous funding for new start-ups, one in three UK tech start-up workers comes from outside the country, of whom one-fifth are from Europe. By turning our back on the European Union, not only are we making it harder for young European entrepreneurs to come and participate in the tech industry, we are also effectively putting a temporary sign up saying we’re closed for business.
Champions of Brexit would contend that – through the introduction of an Australian style points system – far from closing the door to foreign entrepreneurs, our immigration system will become fairer. But this new system risks being too laborious and slow for small companies and start-ups.
This uncertainty affects other areas that are also vital to the tech industry too, such as foreign investment. The UK’s access to the single market and ability to scale quickly across Europe was a huge selling point for companies looking to expand to the continent. The absence of a coherent vision for the UK’s future trading relationships, both with the EU and other countries, mean foreign investors are dissuaded from investing in the UK until a clearer picture of the country’s relationship with its neighbours emerges.
It is clear now that the emotive case and stirring rhetoric that led the British people to the exit door of the European Union is no longer sufficient. It is time for those that advocated our withdrawal to give strong, guiding leadership to address the significant uncertainties that threaten both our position as a global tech innovator, and our wider economy.
The tech and entrepreneurial community is not one to flee from a difficult environment, and I have confidence that we will rise to this next challenge. While our position as an international tech hub will not disappear overnight, it’s vital we work together to maintain our influence and assure our European counterparts that London is not closed for business.