May Wants Total Alignment With EU Data Rules After Brexit

  • Information-sharing framework vital for security and business
  • U.K. sees current arrangement with EU countries as ideal

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May proposed keeping Britain in total alignment with the European Union’s data-sharing rules after Brexit, something that would allow both intelligence agencies and business to continue to share information across borders.

The U.K. regards the EU’s data rules, which are crucial to both companies and security agencies, as one of its successes within the bloc -- the British Information Commissioner’s Office played a large role in their development. Staying aligned would allow the sharing of information between offices in different countries confident that it was subject to proper protection rules. 

Theresa May at the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 17.

Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

While the EU currently offers “adequacy agreements” to third party countries, certifying that they conform to European rules, these can be withdrawn at any time, and wouldn’t offer British businesses the stability they need.

“We want to go further and seek a bespoke arrangement to reflect the U.K.’s exceptionally high standards of data protection,” May told the Munich Security Conference in a speech on Saturday. “And we’re ready to start working through this with colleagues in the European Commission now.”

May even proposed “an ongoing role” for the U.K.’s data agency in setting the EU’s rules. She also wants U.K. defense companies to be able to compete on a level-playing field for European projects.

Tech U.K., which represents the industry, welcomed May’s comments.

Read more: Brexit Battle Lines Redrawn Within Theresa May’s Cabinet

May also took a “practical and pragmatic” approach to cooperation on intelligence, defense and policing issues, setting out a comprehensive list of areas for continued cooperation. 

She wants Britain to keep the European Arrest Warrant and the European Investigation Order, which helps with evidence gathering. She proposed continuing to work with and exchange data with Europol. And she went further. The U.K. would continue to contribute forces to EU military missions, and money to its aid projects.

It was hardly surprising that, at the end, conference organizer Wolfgang Ischinger observed to May that “things would be so much easier if you stayed” inside the EU.

The speech was intended both to reassure her counterparts and to show how a new trade deal could be reached.

A new treaty on security, as May proposed, would be vital to counter-terrorism work, but it would also serve a higher purpose: It would establish that, in some areas, the EU is willing to consider new types of relationships with third countries. The bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has repeatedly insisted that no such option is available to the U.K. when it comes to trade.

“If the priority in the negotiations becomes avoiding any kind of new cooperation with a country outside the EU, then this political doctrine and ideology will have damaging real world consequences for the security of all our people, in the U.K. and the EU,” May warned. “As leaders, we cannot let that happen.”

Merkel Says It’s Not Cherry-Picking to Want Unique Brexit Deal

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday evening gave May some cover for this argument, saying that a bespoke settlement needn’t necessarily mean “cherry-picking” -- something that the EU Commission has said it won’t allow.

Speaking in Munich after May, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was less enthusiastic. “I wouldn’t like to see security issues and trade issues thrown into the same pot,” Juncker said in response to an audience question. “Some would like to do that: I would prefer that we didn’t.”

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