BT’s Brexit priorities
We believe that a successful UK will need a positive, enduring and certain relationship with the EU.
That makes sense for BT too, given that we have over 8000 people in continental Europe, providing a range of services to customers such as the EU institutions and NATO, and a presence in all EU countries, substantially in Germany, Benelux, Spain, Italy, France and Hungary. There are also a number of areas where we are seeking greater clarity for our UK business operations.
Our Brexit priorities are set out below.
1. Regulation: A stable and proportionate regulatory environment, aligned with the EU, supporting long-term investment and innovation.
The UK regulatory framework, grounded in EU law, has delivered substantial investment and competition. By removing the roles of the EU Commission and enabling divergence from EU law, Brexit raises the prospect of reducing checks and balances whilst offering scope to increase regulation. Given the importance of our sector, we think the UK should ensure successors take over the policy and oversight roles currently provided by the EU. Post-Brexit, policy should be the responsibility of DCMS while a suitably resourced CMA should provide Ofcom oversight, alongside existing appeal routes.
2. Data: Continued ability to transfer data freely across borders; no obligations on data localisation in the UK or EU.
The UK must be seen by the EU as an ‘equivalent’ regime for data security and data protection to ensure data continues to flow freely across borders. The UK plans to implement the EU GDPR by May 2018 and recognises the importance of ensuring that the UK is seen as providing “adequate” data protection post Brexit. However, there are some complex issues here, including on timing. We are seeking clarity on the post-Brexit legal framework soon in order to avoid burdensome and wasted contingency planning.
We want to secure certainty as soon as possible for current employees, continued access to scarce talent and resources, and the ability to move our people throughout the EU. It is vital that BT and other companies investing heavily in the UK, the EU and globally can access the skills and talent we need. In our sector this includes a wide spectrum from cybersecurity specialists through to skilled fibre and systems engineers and construction workers or contractors. Access to the required skills is vital to continue to build the UK’s digital infrastructure.
BT is the third-largest corporate investor in R&D in the UK (after the pharmaceutical companies). The funds received from EU programmes such as Horizon 2020 are key to developing new technologies and standards. We want to secure full reciprocal access to EU bids for R&D and related funding (such as Horizon 2020) and to continue full participation in dialogues that set research priorities and standards.
We want a close, open and non-discriminatory trading relationship with the EU and other major markets. We think the UK should use new trade deals as a template for future best practice with due recognition of the importance of services to the UK economy and of regulatory alignment. This is especially relevant in the US communications sector, where we have struggled to get access from US incumbents on reasonable terms given ineffective regulation, and in gaining further access to other key markets such as China. We also need to build trade skills capacity in the UK, including setting up formal consultative structures for engaging with businesses.
We want early confirmation of a transition period which provides certainty and time for business and the economy to adapt to new trading arrangements from EU exit in March 2019. We support the CBI’s call for a transition period of several years - where the UK remains in the European Single Market and a Customs Union - beyond the Article 50 deadline of March 2019 until the future UK-EU trading relationship is finalised. The shape of the future arrangements should be known well before the start of the transition period.