Brexit Britain could enjoy ‘North Sea oil boom’ after ditching EU’s data protection laws

Brexit: David Frost on chances of financial services agreement

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Tuesday was the fifth anniversary of the Brexit referendum. On June 23, 2016, Britons voted to leave the European Union, putting an end to almost half a century of eurosceptic frustration. The time since then involved unprecedented levels of parliamentary rancour, public anger and mistrust, though.

Many parliamentarians and politicians across the continent tried to ignore the democratic will of the people, as they attempted to overturn the result of the referendum completely or push for a “Brexit in name only”.

Others were accused of scaremongering and trying to “spook” the British public.

This week, the repeated assertions in Germany and from the European Commission that Brexit has not paid off particularly struck out.

As the head of Oxford-based think-tank Euro Intelligence Wolfgang Munchau penned, the case for Brexit was not an economic one but people voted Leave because they did not want to belong to the EU.

That said, Mr Munchau continued, the Remain campaign’s central claim – that leaving the EU would make the UK worse off in the long run – is still unfounded as Brexit did not happen five years ago, but in February 2020.

Actually, the political commentator argued, Brexit Britain could reap economic windfalls on a scale of North Sea oil in the Eighties if it manages to ditch the EU’s “overly-burdensome” data protection laws.

He explained: “The test of Brexit will come from regulatory divergence. Data is probably the single biggest factor – underestimated by the trade specialists because data trade is not an officially recognised category.

“So here is our speculation: if the UK manages to extricate itself from the EU’s overly-burdensome data protection laws, it could reap economic windfalls on a scale of North Sea oil in the Eighties.

“There are many other regulatory issues that will matter too, including for financial services.

“But we reckon that the data environment is going to be the big one.”

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While former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was reforming Britain’s economy, new oil discoveries in the North Sea were turning the nation into an energy powerhouse.

The surge in resources and employment softened the oil-price shocks of the late Seventies and helped Mrs Thatcher pull the country out of economic stagnation.

Mr Munchau concluded: “The economic success and failure of Brexit will therefore depend on political decisions that have yet to be taken.

“It is far from clear that this will happen. Dominic Cummings pushed this agenda. But there was no broad-based political support in the Conservative Party behind this.

“The current focus is on industrial development and planning.

“Cummings’ departure from the inner circle of No 10 Downing Street makes it less likely that the UK will opt for a radical departure from GDPR, the EU’s data protection regime. In that case, the UK would forgo some of Brexit’s potential benefits.

“Our best guess right now is that the long-run economic impact will be hard to discern in practice because economies adjust in non-foreseeable ways.

“It is economists who don’t.”

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Mr Cummings, Britain’s former top Government adviser, told agencies to ignore European data protection laws to coordinate the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The former Vote Leave director said in a parliamentary hearing last month, that he had told the Information Commissioner’s Office, the country’s data regulator, to put out a notice that agencies working on the response to the coronavirus shouldn’t have worried about the rules because “if someone, somewhere in the system didn’t say ignore GDPR, thousands of people were going to die”.

Mr Cummings said while the step was “almost definitely” illegal, it was necessary to help connect different sources of information to find out more about how and where the virus was spreading and integrate testing.

The Government was warned that the proposed use of data risked breaking the General Data Protection Regulation and “a whole bunch of things around the European Convention of Human Rights, right to privacy, etc”.

Mr Cummings said: “What I wanted to do was essentially the same as what had happened in South Korea and Taiwan and places where you start using bank data, you start using mobile phone data, to triangulate where people are.

“It wasn’t just the testing system we had to get built up, it was also the whole data architecture as well.”

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