Tech After Brexit — a speech to the IoD by Matt Hancock, Minister For Digital

The Institute of Directors is holding their Digital Strategy Summit today, and the opening address was by the Minister for Digital about the tech sector after Brexit. But what was notable was what he didn’t talk about.

Here’s how the speech was billed in the agenda:

And indeed, it was subject to change. Yesterday’s trip to Brussels by Theresa May failed to bring any progress, leading Macron to call for a tougher stance, increasing the risks of a ‘no deal’ crash out of the EU in 2019. Meanwhile inflation reached the highest level for 5 years as it continues to climb. And then the OECD weighed in with a much anticipated in-depth report that essentially found Brexit is trashing the British economy.

Given all this very topical news, the tech leaders whose fears about were apparently unfounded according to the blurb for the speech, were very keen to hear the minister’s plan for those “next steps for ensuring Britain’s technology sectors continue to flourish” after Brexit. Sadly, it seems he was rather keen to skirt the subject of Brexit altogether, and simply talk about the government’s digital strategy, which was published back in March. Nothing much new in this speech, nothing much in the way of detail. It was very much a holding pattern.

Here’s the text of his speech…

“I feel very at home here, among entrepreneurs and digital people. My first job was solving the Y2K bug in COBOL in my parents’ business.

[relates story that all family are entrepreneurs, but he didn’t go into it because of the stress of remembering business nearly going under because of late payment. But cheque came in just on time.]

How can a perfectly decent business nearly go under because the economy is bad? What can be done to prevent that? … I went to work for the Bank of England as an economist.

[Then into politics… and first digital minister]

The only thing bigger than Brexit is the digital revolution. And that’s true given the impact of our lives over a generation.

We need to harness the benefits and mitigate the risks, so the benefits can be enjoyed for all.

We need digital infrastructure that is fit for the future. Easy and ubiquitous access for all.

Our Digital Strategy set out how to make the UK the best place in the world for digital business.

I was abroad recently in Australia, and reviewed their Digital Strategy, and it was good to see we were very much aligned.

The digital strategy is complimented by the digital charter in our manifesto.

It’s about approaching the internet from a set of liberal values […].

Strategy and promises don’t mean anything unless you do something about seeing them through.

This is what we’re doing against each of the 7 pillars of the strategy:

  1. Infrastructure
    Committed to building world class infra. Making good progress. On track for 95% superfast broadband by end of the year. Then to reach the 5% have legislated. This is increasingly being delivered by a competitive market. On mobile the speed of rollout has been impressive. 4G 72% coverage last year. Target to reach 95%. Tackling with ASA misleading use of ‘up to’ speeds, and ‘high speed broadband’ when its only fibre to teh cabinet. Focused on next gen — full fibre and 5G. Budget showed next steps. £1.1bn investment in infra. Leading the world on technical specs and standards.
  2. Skills
    Britain needs very best at every level… including attracting the best talent from around the world. [also training] 4 million training places by next year, already overdelivering on timeline. Comes on top of one of favourite policies from Cameron admin, including coding in the curriculum. Want training open to as wide a range as possible. Everyone has the entitlement to skills. The greatest demand for skills is in the tech sector itself. In last year seen investments in techm from Microsoft, Google, Apple, Monzo, Zoopla and more. What will replace the EIF funding, the British Business Bank is doing a great job.
  3. Making the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business
    We know this is a big aim and getting finance right is big part.
  4. Helping every business become a digital business
    We’re also committed to make every biz a digital biz. We’ve launched a prodctivity council to ensure that the billions of value added that can be unlocked with even a modest improvement in the digital capability of firms can be unlocked. TechCityUK launched the fintech for all competition, aimed at startups. But fintech is aimed not just at tech itself, but using tech it can help businesses right across the piece.
  5. Making the uk the safest place to live and work online
    Even for the most enthusiastic digital person, like me, we know the internet brings [problems]. Everything from bullying to the promotion of terrorism online. We know that [addressing this] whilst also protecting the [freedoms] is vital. We’re introducing a statutory code of practice on social media. What is considered unacceptable offline should be unacceptable online. […] tech companies should be accountable to users. Keeping britain safe means cybersecurity too, funded our cybersecurity centre to tune of £1.1bn. Security is responsibility of the data owner to ensure is secure and protected. Gov has a role to set standards.
  6. Digital Government
    Massive project to make tax digital is proceeding. Gcloud procurement is being copied around the world. 3947 supplier,s 93% SMEs. Govtech market is booming. Small courts service was tested by minister just last week
  7. Data
    Strategy committed to unlocking power of data. Data is the fuel of digital strategy. Data underpins [everything]. 83% feel they don’t have control over their data. Making UK low consisted with EU’s GDPR. Requiring social media companies to allow users to delete posts they made when they were young. Data protection bill will also make it easier to withdraw consent for use of personal data. Expands definition to include IP addresses [..] and DNA. More powers for the information commissioner. Getting the governance right is about more than legislation. It’s about living with the [ethical issues]. When machines are making decisions using artificial intelligence [..] it’s vital that the ethical issues are considered. How do we deal with some the discrimination can come up. Getting the ethical norms of behaviour right will set Britain fair to lead in [the sector]. We published an excellent report in how the UK can be a world leader.

We’re 6 months in, building on all 7 pillars. We can only deliver this strategy in partnership. With academia, civil society, and businesses large and small. There are many more good ideas out there than there are in here. I want to know how we are doing well and what we are doing wrong

[Question about what will happen post Brexit]

It is vital that we work with our partners around the world, including in Europe. In France in particular we are neighbours. A strong paris tech scene is good for a uk tech scene. Ensuring we get the free flow of data is very important. We’ve proposed a scheme of adequacy. We hope we can achieve that in the negotiation. It will be very damaging for both sides if we don’t, in fact more damaging for the European side. We should keep working together. I love seeing these events in Paris, Berlin and I’m going to Lisbon next month.”

So that’s what the minister said. But do you notice anything he didn’t say, given that the subject was ‘Tech After Brexit’? Yep — there was nothing about Brexit, or how the tech sector might fare after it.

The full text of the speech as delivered is available on A search of the speech shows that Brexit is only mentioned once, in passing.

And, in fact, the speech didn’t contain much detail at all. It was mostly a re-run of things that have been previously announced, and the content of the strategy that was published in March.

What do you think about his speech? Continue the conversation on Twitter — I’m @steveparks

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