Boris Johnson’s Conservatives have won the general election and are returned to government with a healthy majority of 78 seats. The Conservative manifesto was light on detail for the digital economy, but we can start to make some guesses as to what will happen next:
Brexit: Is a fact. Nothing now stands between the prime minister and ratifying the deal to take the UK out of the EU. The question is only how closely the two sides want to cooperate and how much can be done on the trade deal before the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. Industry should be ready to find ways to keep EU-UK digital trade flowing, with the EU being the market for around 40% of UK digital exports.
Control: For the first time since the EU referendum, the UK has a genuine majority government. Decision-making power is back with the executive, rather than with factions of backbenchers. A shared policy agenda among the new cohort of Conservative MPs, and with Brexit no longer the central domestic political issue, attention can turn to other areas. We can expect some progress on content regulation in particular.
“Global Britain”: Those members of the UK’s diplomatic corps not dedicated to EU negotiations will be looking for ways to retain the UK’s global role. In the next 12 months, the UK will doubtless use its role as host for the UN’s climate change conference in 2020 – COP 26 – as evidence of its global influence, but other opportunities will be sought in the Commonwealth, G20, the WTO and in more technical forums. The policy goals the UK will want to achieve are still under development and a clear direction on digital issues from business will be well received by government.
Global Trade: Even more important than feelings of international prestige, the UK will want to conclude trade deals with the United States and Commonwealth countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa quickly, to show the electorate that the UK is moving on from Brexit. These deals are opportunities to establish high-level principles on tech and trade – and defend existing ones, amid a global environment growing cooler on some elements of digital trade.
Productivity: Industry should also anticipate (by Conservative standards at least) a looser approach to fiscal policy. Infrastructure and productivity spending will increase. The prime minister’s talk of new bridges aside, industry should engage to make sure this will be favourable to those companies offering digital infrastructure – cloud, fibre, skills, as well as IoT and AI.
Scotland: Edinburgh may yet rival Brussels, Paris, or Berlin as the city that could destablise the best-laid plans of the government. With Scottish elections in 2021, the Scottish Nationalists are seeking a mandate for a second referendum on independence from the UK, citing the Brexit vote opposed by over 60% of the voters in Scotland.