LONDON — The U.K.s digital secretary wants Donald Trump to know that Brexit Britain is a good bet for tech.
Matt Hancock arrives in Washington on Thursday for five days of talks, aiming to “reinforce” the U.K.s “incredibly strong relationship” with its transatlantic partner.
The U.K. may be leaving the European Union, but Hancock will tell Trump administration officials that Britain can offer “innovation friendly rules,” a pledge to remain open to the best tech talent from around the world and a potential U.S.- U.K. trade deal as a reason to back Britain.
Amid the warm sentiments, though, he will also deliver a message to Trumptown which may put the tech industry less at ease: The U.K. wants to create more rules for the industry.
Having a “strong framework within which tech industries operate for the benefit of society, like strong data protection rules, is a benefit,” he told POLITICO in a phone interview ahead of the trip.
Hancock may face a clash of cultures as he seeks to persuade the two countries to “look to the future together” during the U.S. trip.
U.K. MPs thirsty for a clampdown on social media platforms in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, which saw the company fold on Wednesday, may have to confront the realities of doing business with less legislative hungry U.S. lawmakers.
“It is incredibly important for us to get the message out that the U.K. is open for business,” Hancock said.
His visit to Washington will include face time with Matt Lira, the U.S. presidents special assistant on innovation policy and initiatives, and Ory Rinat, the White House chief digital officer.
Hancock will also meet tech leaders including the Internet Association trade body, hold a roundtable with U.S. and U.K. tech founders Octopus Venture and a meeting with the Google-backed think tank Jigsaw in New York.
“Whilst we are European we also have excellent relationships with the U.S. as well so we have got a very strong message that the U.K. is the best place for a U.S. company looking to go overseas,” Hancock added.
While there will be plenty of insistence that Brexit gives the U.K. an opportunity to “ensure that we have innovation friendly rules in place to make it even more attractive as a place to invest for tech business,” Hancock said he also hoped to “make progress this year” on proposals to reform platform liability rules — a threat which is creating nervousness in a tech community already under siege.
The scandal surrounding Cambridge Analytica, which was accused of improperly using the personal data of millions of Facebook users, has led to calls for more oversight of the tech industry.
On Tuesday, the U.K.s cross-party digital select committee announced it would issue a formal summons to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg if he continued to refuse to appear before MPs.
While unwilling to be drawn about specific plans, Hancock said the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was looking not only at short-term reforms to liability rules within the constraints of the European Unions e-Commerce Directive, but also at what could be changed after Brexit.
“There is a broad debate going on right now about what the best way to balance this is and we are engaged with the companies on where to land that,” he said.
He hopes to bring the U.S. with him.
“Making sure that we get the rules around platforms right” is on Hancocks Washington agenda, along with the future of the media and artificial intelligence and U.K. plans for a new Centre for Data Ethics.
Also paramount to keeping investment flowing between the U.S. and U.K. is the flow of data, Hancock said.
A specific agreement on data flows directly with the U.S is not on the cards “at this stage,” he added, pointing to what he called the “good arrangement now” through the privacy shield agreement through the European Union.
The future shape of a data transfer agreement with the U.S. “depends on the deal that is struck with the EU,” he said. But he added that the U.K.s goal in Brexit negotiations is “to continue the high-quality arrangements that we have got as things stand with the U.S.
“What matters is that companies can transfer data in a way that is safe and that we have confidence that the data is protected.”