- Boris Johnson is set to become the next UK prime minister
- UK tech execs have said brexit and innovation should be key focus
- Johnson has pledged full-fibre rollout by 2025
The UK’s tech industry has warned that the new British prime minister must make resolving Brexit a priority, while finding a way of enabling and promoting digital innovation in the country.
Boris Johnson was elected leader of the UK’s Conservative Party as part of a ballot of party members, and is set to become the next UK prime minister when Theresa May steps down tomorrow.
Former London mayor Johnson beat foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt with 92,153 votes over his rivals 46,656 – and he will enter Number 10 Downing Street at a time as the UK’s end of October deadline for striking an exit deal with the European Union looms.
In an acceptance speech, Johnson promised to “deliver Brexit” by 31 October and said his win would “energise the country”.
“We are going to get Brexit done on 31 October and take advantage of all the opportunities it will bring with a new spirit of can do,” the new PM added.
“We are once again going to believe in ourselves, and like some slumbering giant we are going to rise and ping off the guy ropes of self doubt and negativity.”
British tech entrepreneur and UKFast CEO Lawrence Jones, who has built a portfolio of businesses across telecoms, cloud and data centres, said that in a meeting with the incumbent PM a few weeks ago, Johnson offered assurances about a potential “tech tax” on the like of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google.
“He acknowledged that it’s clearly not a level playing field,” said Jones. “He gets it. I’m confident that he’s the right man to try and finally remedy that issue and create a level playing field for British businesses which ultimately means more money for the British people, and more opportunities for our businesses to compete.”
A key issue facing Johnson’s government is the UK’s exit from the European Union, also known as Brexit. MPs have repeatedly rejected a deal May struck with the European Union that would see the UK withdraw.
“We’ve had more than enough uncertainty and delays now, and I’d rather have a set date to work to, despite concerns from some quarters about a no-deal scenario,” Jones added, saying the tech industry needs certainty.
Julian David, who is CEO of techUK, said that Brexit must be the first priority for Johnson. While Jones downplayed concerns about a so-called “No deal Brexit”, which would see the UK leaving without any agreement with the EU, David said techUK’s members, which represent more than 900 companies across the UK technology space, had repeatedly warned against No-Deal.
Johnson repeatedly promised to leave on 31 October, with or without a deal, during the leadership race.
David said: “techUK’s members have repeatedly warned of the damaging impact that a No Deal Brexit would have on their business and we would urge Mr Johnson to put all the talent and resources at his disposal to the task of avoiding this outcome.
“Digital innovation is driving a fourth industrial revolution and that holds huge opportunities for the UK to increase its productivity and create high-skill, high-wage economy that the PM aspires to. Technology also holds the key to solve some of the greatest challenges we are facing.”
techUK had previously asked both leadership candidates to respond to the organisation’s priorities for the sector, with only Hunt replying.
One of Johnson’s key pledges during the leadership election, which was sparked when May announced her resignation after three years as PM, is the deployment of full fibre across the UK. Johnson outlined plans to deliver full fibre “to every home in the land” by 2025.
He labelled the current Government’s plans - to deliver ultrafast Gigabit capable full fibre to 10 million UK premises by 2022 and 15 million by 2025 – as “laughably unambitious” in a column for The Telegraph newspaper.
According to a briefing from the National Infrastructure Commission, upgrading to full fibre by 2033 – within the current government’s timeline – would cost an estimated £33.5 billion of investment over the next 30 years, with extra costs up to £11.5 billion to do this in a single upgrade. Currently, just 7% of the UK is covered by full-fibre broadband.
Johnson has not outlined how this will be funded, or whether he has spoken with the UK’s telecoms industry about this