With just over a week before the UK goes to the polls to vote in the general election, academic think tank The UK in a Changing Europe has criticised party manifestos as setting out “vague and potentially unrealistic” Brexit plans.
The major parties have published their manifestos over the past few weeks, with their Brexit proposals unsurprisingly garnering considerable attention. However, the think tank believes that both the Conservatives and Labour party have failed to address how their Brexit plans would impact their “wider economic strategies and ambitions” such as economic growth and the public finances.
Economic uncertainty poses a threat to an array of UK industries, including the UK’s fast-growing technology industry. The two main parties have made several tech-centric pledges in their manifestos, but the report casts doubt on how they will be carried out in light of Brexit.
How could this impact the tech industry?
In their manifesto, the Conservatives have committed to providing gigabit broadband for every home and business by 2025, “completing a fast-charging network” for electric vehicles, investment in “computing, robotics and artificial intelligence” and legislation to make “the UK the safest place in the world to be online”.
The Labour party has pledged to roll out free full-fibre broadband by 2030, “take action to address the monopolistic hold the tech giants have on advertising revenues and will support vital local newspapers and media outlets”, “overhaul” the nation’s cybersecurity and invest in “modern AI, cyber technology and state-of-the-art medical equipment”.
However, these plans require economic stability, and sufficient government funding, two factors that could be undermined by Brexit.
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In the report, titled Brexit: the manifestos uncovered, The UK in a Changing Europe has estimated that the Conservative’s Brexit plans could result in an annual fiscal shortfall of somewhere between £6 and £20bn, and if the UK exits the World Trade Organisation, this could be as high as £28bn.
The impact of a much softer Labour Brexit would be “slightly positive compared to the current forecast assumptions”, and if the Liberal Democrats are elected, not leaving the EU would result in a ‘remain bonus’ of £12bn, according to the think tank.
“Problematic economic and fiscal arithmetic”
Overall, the report stipulates that the “harder the Brexit, the more difficult already problematic economic and fiscal arithmetic will become for any government”.
The UK’s access to the digital single market, whether it will be regarded as a secure third country in terms of data protection, and access to goods are all important considerations for the tech industry post Brexit, but the report’s assessment that the manifestos contain “unclear, unfeasible, misleading and missing statements” may mean that clarity on these issues has not yet been achieved.
It describes the Conservative’s aim of having “80% of UK trade covered by free trade agreements within the next three years, starting with the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan” as “extremely optimistic” and that “Securing a trade deal in a year requires difficult and painful concessions on both sides.”
Another factor that could undermine the tech-related pledges set out in the manifestos is the impact of Brexit on migration from the EU. The UK is currently experiencing a tech skills shortage, so access to tech talent is vital. The report warns that “any scenario is likely to see major changes, particularly for those migrating for work”, with the Conservative’s commitment to an ‘Australian-style points system’ described as “inaccurate”.
Furthermore, the report highlights the fact that there are no reference in the Conservative manifesto to maintaining security co-operation with the EU, which could impact plans for cybersecurity. Currently, protecting against cybersecurity threats involves the sharing of information on incidents across countries in the EU, and failing to maintain a close relationship post-Brexit could weaken the UK’s national cybersecurity.