The UK Government has released a “Future Partnership” paper setting out its vision for UK-EU data flows post-Brexit. In particular, the paper anticipates seeking an early UK-EU agreement that each area’s data protection laws provide equivalent protection, which would allow data to continue to flow between the EU, the UK and other third countries post-Brexit. 

The paper, released last week, recognises the vital importance of data flows to the UK’s digital economy, and outlines what the Government acknowledges is an “ambitious” new UK-EU model for the exchange and protection of personal data. The paper notes that the UK is in an “unprecedented” position: the UK was closely involved in the negotiation of the new EU data protection rules, which will come into force in May 2018, and has already committed to implementing the EU regime in UK domestic law (see our previous posts earlier this month and in June). Although on Brexit the UK will become a “third country”, outside the EU data protection regime, the UK’s domestic rules should be fully aligned with the EU data protection framework at the point of exit.

Key elements of the Government’s proposal are:

  • an early decision recognising the adequacy of UK data protection law at the point of exit, allowing EU-UK data transfers to continue without disruption in the short term;
  • confirmation that flows of data between the UK and other third countries with existing EU adequacy decisions can continue;
  • an agreed negotiating timeline for longer-term arrangements; and
  • an ongoing role for the UK regulator, the ICO, in EU data protection regulation.

As discussed in a previous piece, there has been concern that the UK faces a data protection “cliff-edge” post-Brexit. The Government’s focus on minimising disruption and uncertainty, both immediately on exit and in the longer term, will be welcome to businesses in the UK and elsewhere.  However, it remains to be seen whether the EU shares the UK’s ambitions for a future partnership.

Whilst the proposal makes sense from a technical perspective, there is of course a larger, and more unpredictable, political overlay to any agreements relating to Brexit and there remains a risk that this proposal could be delayed or derailed by failure to reach agreement on the larger issues currently being discussed between the UK and the EU.