The UK government is becoming an expert at extolling benefits where there are none, from phony leveling-up initiatives, to supposed Brexit benefits which are either false, harmful, or would have been just as easy to deliver while still in the EU.

This week the government is telling us it has a new approach to data protection which is "business friendly" - a claim we should take with a pinch of salt. Also this week, as a direct result of the UK government's brinkmanship, we face the prospect of British science being excluded from European research projects.

So - does the new Data Bill really "unlock the power of data", and what is happening with science research post-Brexit?

Increasing bureaucracy

Having a new UK Data Bill is really a part of the larger Brexit project. As such, the Government is keen to present it as an opportunity to do away with "unnecessary red tape" required by EU rules. As with much of the larger Brexit project, the reality turns out to be pretty much the opposite of that.

The EU General Data Protection Regulation exists to protect consumers from the misuse of their data. This is a good motive, and like a lot of good things, it comes at a price. Businesses have to examine the way they use data, they have to tell users what they are doing, and they have to get permission before doing it.

Yes, there's a cost to this. But once that cost is paid, digital businesses can have access to European markets. Because the UK implemented the GDPR before Brexit, it has "data adequacy" status, which means it protects consumer data up to EU standards. This makes it easier to do digital business with the EU.

Apart from increasing some fines, the changes in the UK Data Bill are all about reducing the burden on companies to protect consumer data. This, we are told, will allow them to use data more powerfully, increasing the amount they can do with customer data. They might get fined harder for junk mail and cold calling, but they will be able to use data more powerfully to sell people things.

It's debatable how much benefit this will bring, of course, but one thing is definitely true. The relaxation will only apply in the UK, so any benefits only apply in a smaller market than the whole of the EU.

In the EU markets, organizations will still have to apply the full GDPR. So if a company is doing business there. their compliance duties will double. They'll need one privacy process for the UK, and another for the EU. It's the equivalent of the new border checks required on physical goods. Extra bureaucracy was created by a half-baked idea of diverging from the rules of the most useful local trading bloc.

The UK Government says the new bill is more "business-friendly," reducing unnecessary paperwork, and saving £1 billion over ten years, while "unlocking the power of data" by allowing businesses to use it more freely.

“Today is an important step in cementing post-Brexit Britain’s position as a science and tech superpower," said Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries. The claim that abolishing Data Protection Officers and record-keeping will be a massive boost to businesses is obviously false, because any organization that wants to deal in Europe will have to keep those things on.

Mariano delli Santi, data protection campaigner at Open Rights Group warned of a "massive and expensive rupture with the EU, making data transfers costly for UK businesses, costing jobs during an economic downturn."

Hurting science

There's another little claim in the Government's Data Bill puff. - the idea that that research scientists will be able to do more helpful work, without the pesky requirement to get their subjects' permission first.

Even if that were true, scientists won't be disposed to cheer about it just now - because this week a completely separate post-Brexit story looks like hobbling Britain's science community.

Science is inherently collaborative. Europe's Horizon Europe is a €95 billion scheme for international scientific collaboration. All nations contribute, and it issues grants for scientific research, which have enabled groundbreaking work, with European scientists leading the world.

When Brexit happened, scientists were assured that participation in Horizon would continue - but as with so many Brexit promises, this has proven flimsy. Now the UK is threatening to tear up international treaties in Ireland, and one of the consequences is the EU halting research cooperation.

This issue is way more consequential than the Data Bill, but as with the data protection rules, the UK will suffer if it goes its own way. There is a "plan B" which involves the UK taking its Horizon contribution and using it to fund UK-only projects. The nation's scientists are very clear that this will be a second best, as the UK will lose involvement in truly epic projects.

Science has always been international. To give one example, even when France and Britain were at war in the early 19th century, the British Royal Academy regularly exchanged results with France's Academie des Science, and scientists were able to be members of both.

It seems bizarre that a Brexit dispute can achieve what Napoleon could not, and cut Britain off from European research

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