Brexit, digital entertainment, tech and why I’m voting Remain

It would be against the UK’s interests to vote to leave the European Union: this is my attempt to explain why I believe this and why I will be voting ‘Remain’ on the Brexit referendum on 23rd June 2016.

For those of you who don’t know me: I’m a digital entertainment and tech lawyer with more than a decade of experience working in the UK, continental Europe and Silicon Valley. I advise video games, eSports, digital broadcast and tech businesses from indies and startups to global leaders on UK and EU legal and business matters. I’d like to think I have a pretty fair understanding of the legal and business realities of the UK’s membership of the EU. So, I’m going to focus on legal and policy issues for Brexit, partly because it’s my specialism, but also because there has been relatively little discussion about it and how it would affect the industries I advise. It is not even close to an exhaustive treatise on the topic, it is just my own thoughts a couple of days before the referendum. If you want to hear what the industries themselves think, here’s some links about what tech thinks about Brexit, and what the games industry thinks about Brexit (1, 2) [spoiler: they are all against Brexit]. Here we go…

The UK benefits from EU law and the EU benefits from UK law.

Here’s something scary for you: Directive 97/7/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 1997. Sounds like the uncaring diktat of a faceless European superstate? No. Actually it’s the EU’s ‘distance selling’ rules which give EU consumers the right to return goods that they purchased online but don’t want. Before it came in, British consumers had no clear right to return unwanted games, DVDs or books bought from Amazon, Game and so forth. Recently it was updated to give consumers rights in online games and digital content. These rules form a key part of EU consumer law, which has come to be the most world’s sophisticated consumer protection system, giving practical consumer rights and remedies to ordinary people across the EU.

Some others: the EU’s Equal Treatment Directive required all EU countries to enshrine in law the principle that men and women are equal in the workplace and that no one can be discriminated against at work on the basis of their ethnicity, gender, religious or political views or otherwise.  There are important UK laws on research, data and environmental protection to name just a few which are derived from EU legal standards and which benefit our country.

These are some simple examples to illustrate my first point: since the UK joined the European Economic Community (as it was then) in 1973, European laws, cases and guidance have helped to build our legal and business landscape in all industries, including digital entertainment and tech. For the most part, they are beneficial and sit in the background – but they are part of our everyday lives. They are not all great by any means; sometimes they end up as compromises; sometimes they don’t work as well as they could have. Sometimes that is the EU’s fault and sometimes it is ours (since often each country is responsible for specifically implementing the general principles agreed by all member states on a particular matter). A key strand you will see running through this article is my view that the EU may not be perfect (what is?) but on the whole it does work in this imperfect world.

The UK excels at international business because of its EU membership.

For several years I have had first-hand experience of businesses from the US and increasingly now from Asia choosing to do business in the UK in least partly for the UK’s position as a bridge between the US and EU, between Anglophone common law and European continental law. I practised in Silicon Valley, helping high growth tech companies expand to Europe, where the UK’s role as translator and interpreter of the European legal and business landscape was on many occasions a key factor to bringing those companies to the UK. I could name you at least ten well known internet or video games businesses which use the UK as their bridgehead into the 500m strong EU market and use UK law for their European business because it gives them the best of all worlds, especially the broad compatibility of UK and EU law on a range of matters important to their business. We can do this in part because our laws are both our own and also European at the same time. Clearly that is not the only reason (look also at our stability, location, timezone, competitive financial and tax incentives etc) – but it is a sizeable factor.

We influence the EU for the better.

Legally, EU laws are created through the coordination (and a system of checks and balances) between the EU Parliament, the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the Court of Justice of the European Union, all of which have British representation. For example, right now the European Commissioner for financial services – one of the UK’s most vital industries – is a Brit, responsible in part for driving the EU’s strategy for the burgeoning fintech industry (whose epicentre is London).

Politically, the UK has serious weight as one of the three leading EU member states (alongside France and Germany) and as the leading voice for free markets and low regulation in the EU. More than that, the UK has influence because it can be more innovative than others. A video games industry example: the UK was the first country in the West to develop specific rules for free to play games, based on EU consumer protection laws, and the rest of the EU has basically followed the sensible and practical British approach (thus averting the potential chaos that more heavy handed or fragmentary regulation could have brought to games). By contrast, there have been occasions where the UK has followed an EU approach to its advantage. The UK used to regulate video game age ratings under its own local BBFC system, but the industry and UK government decided that following the pan-European PEGI system was better for everyone and they made it happen.

The UK can profit from EU developments (if it stays in).

Lastly, there are a number of works at the EU level that could benefit the UK but which equally would benefit a great deal from the British perspective in crafting and developing them. The EU has already become more active over the last few years at building its digital entertainment and tech support infrastructure, especially through making available the grants and loans which other industries have enjoyed for years. Digital entertainment and tech companies in the UK are only just starting to see the benefit this can provide. Looking ahead, there are very ambitious legal plans to build a European ‘Digital Single Market’, breaking down barriers to buying, selling and enjoyment entertainment and tech products and services across the EU. For the UK, as the undisputed creative capital of Europe and a good candidate for tech capital too, there are opportunities here if it can shape these (very early) developments in the right way.

Vote Leave’s legal arguments don’t work.

The Leave arguments focus on legal matters which do not stack up in my experience, or that of many UK lawyers. What follows is my response to some common ones (not all the Vote Leave arguments). I am not going to comment here on specific statistics or ‘facts’ in the popular debate, or on emotive issues like immigration or human rights, which are huge battlegrounds in the Remain vs Leave debate; if you want to know more about that, check out

Brussels stifles the UK with red tape.

For example, the Vote Leave site says “100% [of British businesses] suffer the burden of EU red tape“. I cannot find any actual examples on the Vote Leave site and I do not think they exist. I advise a range of British games, digital entertainment and tech businesses: on a day to day basis EU rules are very low on their list of things to worry about. I certainly don’t have any great list of do’s and don’ts for my clients dictated by EU legislation (and I’d like to think I am a moderately competent lawyer). Obviously, rules exist and sometimes they surely do present real issues, but I have yet to encounter any clients of mine stifled by this mysterious red tape.

EU laws are passed without our consent.

Going back to Vote Leave (how obliging of them), they say “over half our laws are made by unelected EU bureaucrats in Brussels for whom we never voted”. As I explained above, the UK has a voice and representation, both legally and politically. The “unelected bureacrats” to whom Vote Leave refers are presumably the European Commission, the EU’s civil service which generates proposals for new laws. Leaving aside the fact that our own Civil Service does the same kind of thing, the realities of European politics is that actually the European Parliament and the Council act as a check on Commission proposals. A lot of the time, this is how European legislation works: the Commission (or sometimes the Parliament) propose legislation, it goes out to consultation (including national governments and industries having the chance to present their views), eventually it goes through multiple voting processes and checks, finally it has to be implemented by national governments. So, if anything, in most cases a member state ought to have a number of ways to make its views known if the process is run properly. There can be a legitimate ‘democratic deficit’ argument about the EU, and it does not always work as smoothly as it should, but a simple ‘we have no control’ claim is just not right.

More generally the UK has joined a whole host of international arrangements from the United Nations to the Commonwealth, many of which the UK is a founding member, where the UK can be outvoted and measures passed without its consent. That is in the nature of any cooperation where multiple people or countries make decisions together for the common good, it is not unique to the EU by any means.

The UK cannot pass its own laws.

Not true. In great swathes of our lives, the UK has effective control of its own laws. The UK fought hard to implement a legal principle called ‘Subsidiarity’ into the EU which was intended to require the EU only to pass laws where member states cannot efficiently do so themselves. Above all, for many years there  have been legal arguments (to which I personally subscribe) that Parliament remains ultimately sovereign on all matters in the UK and could, if necessary, ALREADY disregard EU laws (if you are really interested, read about the Factortame series of cases…and reflect on what exciting stuff law students have to read), a principle which by the way has been taken for granted in France and Germany in the past. This gets seriously difficult in constitutional law, but the point is that Vote Leave’s argument is not nearly as simple as it makes out.

The UK can trade with the EU without being subject to its laws.

How? I just don’t see it. The EU has a legal and judicial process which applies to all member states – its rules are not generally disapplied for anyone. In fact the EU goes further and applies these rules to anyone trading with the EU: even the USA and other major powers have got into fights with the EU over the EU’s insistence on applying EU rules to anyone trading with the EU. Right now there is a minor war being waged over the EU’s belief that the US doesn’t respect the privacy rights of EU citizens, for example. I do not see how UK would be so different to the US when it comes to the EU applying EU rules to trade with the EU.

“Taking back control is a careful change…we will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any legal process to leave.”

The above is a Vote Leave quote from its site, btw. For the UK to leave the EU would require the rethinking of most if not all of our laws, rules and regulations. Not just those from the EU, but also our place in a wide range of international treaties, conventions and so forth. It would be an immense task, the work of many years, during which I must say – using what lawyerly restraint and understatement remains to me – there would be a considerable period of uncertainty. And that’s just what we get on our side of the table, let alone the rest of the world – where international figures from President Obama to the IMF have lined up to point out how difficult the process will be from their side, too. Some people joke only lawyers would benefit from Brexit – believe me, we don’t want the headache.

Let me add a personal note.

I’ve struggled with whether this article should remain only a professional legal analysis and ultimately I came to the conclusion that I should at this point shed those vestigial shreds of lawyerly restraint and understatement which I mentioned earlier and smash, Hulk-like, into this final piece of my article. This is too important a topic to leave things unsaid. Besides, it is my article anyway :).

This is what I think: I have grown up with the European Union and have friends and clients across it. I have studied how it works since I was 18 and during my career I have lived and breathed its realities from day to day. The EU is not perfect and occasionally it falls below even ‘OK’. But it works, just as our own country works, even if not always as well as we would like. The world needs more cooperation between countries and peoples, not less. It is for these reasons, and a host of other non-legal reasons which I am not writing about today (but you can tweet me if you are interested), that I will vote Remain later this week. As for you, whatever else you may think of the Remain vs Leave debate, I hope that these thoughts have been a little helpful in you deciding what to do.

18 thoughts on “Brexit, digital entertainment, tech and why I’m voting Remain”

  1. I wish to express my thanks to you just for rescuing me from such a dilemma. Right after searching throughout the the web and meeting concepts which were not pleasant, I figured my entire life was gone. Existing without the solutions to the issues you have resolved as a result of your good guideline is a critical case, as well as the ones that would have negatively affected my career if I hadn’t noticed the blog. Your personal capability and kindness in taking care of the whole thing was helpful. I am not sure what I would have done if I hadn’t come upon such a thing like this. I am able to at this point look forward to my future. Thanks so much for the skilled and result oriented help. I won’t think twice to propose the blog to any individual who should get guidance on this topic.

  2. I just wanted to write down a small comment in order to thank you for these stunning recommendations you are sharing on this website. My extended internet research has now been honored with extremely good facts and strategies to talk about with my family members. I ‘d say that most of us readers are extremely fortunate to be in a fabulous site with many special individuals with helpful things. I feel pretty fortunate to have seen your entire web site and look forward to some more fun minutes reading here. Thanks a lot again for all the details.

  3. I just wanted to jot down a remark in order to express gratitude to you for those magnificent concepts you are posting on this website. My time consuming internet lookup has at the end been compensated with professional content to go over with my neighbours. I ‘d state that that we visitors actually are undoubtedly endowed to be in a great site with very many awesome individuals with helpful opinions. I feel pretty lucky to have encountered your website and look forward to plenty of more amazing minutes reading here. Thanks a lot once more for everything.

  4. I am also writing to let you know what a fantastic encounter our daughter gained reading through your web site. She figured out numerous pieces, which include how it is like to have an amazing helping spirit to let many more very easily completely grasp certain very confusing subject matter. You actually exceeded our desires. Many thanks for rendering these beneficial, trusted, informative as well as fun tips on the topic to Gloria.

  5. I simply wanted to appreciate you all over again. I do not know what I would’ve taken care of without those tips discussed by you regarding my problem. It had become an absolute scary setting in my view, but encountering a new well-written strategy you managed the issue made me to jump over contentment. I will be happier for your service as well as believe you know what a powerful job you are always accomplishing instructing many others using your blog post. Most probably you have never come across all of us.

  6. Thank you for every one of your efforts on this web page. My daughter takes pleasure in getting into investigations and it is simple to grasp why. My partner and i learn all relating to the compelling means you create useful techniques by means of the web site and therefore boost response from visitors on that situation while our own child has been becoming educated a great deal. Enjoy the remaining portion of the new year. You’re performing a really good job.

  7. I wish to express thanks to the writer just for rescuing me from this type of incident. Right after looking throughout the online world and coming across opinions which are not beneficial, I thought my entire life was well over. Existing minus the strategies to the issues you’ve solved by means of your post is a crucial case, and those that could have adversely affected my entire career if I had not discovered your web blog. Your own capability and kindness in playing with everything was precious. I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I hadn’t come upon such a step like this. I am able to at this point look forward to my future. Thank you very much for your high quality and sensible guide. I will not hesitate to endorse the sites to any person who desires direction about this problem.

  8. I intended to write you one little observation in order to give many thanks again for those great basics you’ve featured above. This has been really incredibly open-handed with people like you giving without restraint exactly what some people could have supplied for an ebook to earn some bucks on their own, chiefly considering that you might have tried it in case you considered necessary. The advice likewise acted to become good way to understand that some people have the identical passion the same as mine to know the truth a little more around this issue. I am certain there are a lot more pleasurable situations ahead for those who scan through your blog.

  9. Needed to send you the very little remark to finally give thanks once again for all the gorgeous principles you have provided in this case. It was certainly particularly generous of people like you to make openly exactly what many people would’ve offered for sale as an e-book to help with making some profit on their own, mostly considering the fact that you could have tried it in the event you desired. The pointers as well served like the easy way to understand that other people have similar dreams just like my very own to grasp lots more concerning this matter. I am certain there are many more pleasurable occasions in the future for many who look into your blog.

  10. I wish to show my passion for your generosity in support of persons who absolutely need help with this idea. Your personal commitment to passing the message all through was certainly advantageous and has encouraged ladies much like me to attain their endeavors. This insightful facts indicates this much to me and even further to my peers. Regards; from all of us.

  11. Needed to create you that little bit of note to say thanks over again with your beautiful secrets you have documented on this page. It is simply incredibly open-handed with people like you to convey openly what exactly a few people might have made available for an e book in order to make some money for their own end, chiefly given that you could have done it if you ever considered necessary. Those strategies in addition acted to be a easy way to know that other people online have the same interest really like my personal own to know a lot more on the subject of this condition. I’m certain there are lots of more pleasurable periods in the future for many who see your blog post.

  12. I am just commenting to make you be aware of of the nice experience our child enjoyed studying your webblog. She mastered lots of issues, which include what it is like to have a great giving mood to have the mediocre ones completely learn some very confusing subject matter. You undoubtedly surpassed our expected results. I appreciate you for displaying such useful, healthy, informative not to mention cool tips on the topic to Julie.

  13. A lot of thanks for your own hard work on this blog. Ellie loves going through investigations and it’s really easy to see why. My partner and i learn all regarding the lively form you offer good items on this web site and foster contribution from people on the issue while our princess is without a doubt understanding a lot of things. Have fun with the rest of the new year. You are always doing a powerful job.

  14. I’m just writing to make you be aware of of the brilliant experience our daughter obtained browsing your webblog. She noticed such a lot of issues, not to mention what it is like to possess an amazing coaching character to let many others with no trouble know precisely some multifaceted subject matter. You truly did more than my expected results. Thanks for providing those practical, safe, informative as well as fun tips about that topic to Sandra.

  15. I needed to draft you one very small note just to say thanks the moment again for all the great tactics you have featured on this website. It has been simply generous of you to deliver easily what exactly a lot of people would’ve offered for sale for an e book in making some money for themselves, specifically considering that you could possibly have tried it in case you desired. The basics additionally served as a great way to recognize that someone else have a similar dream really like my very own to know the truth a whole lot more in respect of this problem. I know there are many more pleasant instances ahead for individuals that scan through your blog.

  16. I needed to draft you a little remark to finally give thanks yet again relating to the magnificent suggestions you have shown in this case. It has been pretty generous of people like you to allow extensively all that most of us could possibly have made available for an e-book to help with making some profit for themselves, specifically considering that you might have tried it in case you wanted. These secrets also acted to be the easy way to recognize that other individuals have the same fervor really like my own to learn great deal more with regard to this matter. I’m sure there are some more pleasurable times ahead for individuals who scan through your website.

  17. I definitely wanted to write a message in order to thank you for those fantastic suggestions you are giving out here. My time intensive internet look up has finally been rewarded with high-quality facts and techniques to exchange with my good friends. I ‘d state that that we website visitors are extremely endowed to exist in a fine network with very many awesome individuals with very helpful suggestions. I feel very much lucky to have seen your webpages and look forward to tons of more excellent times reading here. Thanks once again for everything.

  18. After looking over a few of the blog articles on your website, I truly appreciate your way of blogging.

    I bookmarked it to my bookmark site list and will be checking back soon. Please visit
    my website as well and tell me your opinion.

Comments are closed.