May wants total alignment with EU data rules after Brexit

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

The UK 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.

While the EU currently offers “adequacy agreements” to third-party countries, certifying that they conform to Euro- pean rules, these can be withdrawn at any time and wouldn’t offer British businesses the stability they need.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 UK’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 UK’s data agency in setting the EU’s rules. She also wants UK defence firms to be able to compete on a level-playing field for European projects.

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

May also took a “practical and pragmatic” approach to cooperation on intelligence, defence 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 pro- posed continuing to work with and exchange data with Europol. And she went further. The UK would continue to contribute forces to EU military missions, and money to its aid projects.

It was hardly surprising that, at the end, conference organiser 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 counter-parts 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 UK 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 UK and the EU,” May warned. “As leaders, we can- not let that happen.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel last Friday evening gave May some cover for this argument, saying that a bespoke settlement needn’t necessarily mean “cherry-picking” — something that the European 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.” — Bloomberg