Yes. I was in Brussels today, attending a meeting of something called “The Community of Practice for better self- and co-regulation”. I went to sleep last night in my Brussels hotel convinced and glad the UK’s membership of the EU was safe and secure and that we could finally draw a line under the endless in/out debates. I had intended to sit up watching the results as they came through but probably mercifully Morpheus took me away. Hey ho.
It felt very strange being in the meeting I had gone over for. As a Brit, as someone from a country that had just announced they were walking away from the EU, I was immediately seized by the idea that I lacked any legitimacy to continue discussing anything that was connected with the EU’s future. I’m not going to be part of it and neither, in all likelihood, are my children and grandchildren. But then I reminded myself I was at the meeting to represent the Rome-based European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online so in that context I felt I could pitch in to the debate. I will write more about this meeting soon, but not now. The aftermath of a seismic shock is not the best time to start erecting a new edifice or commenting on the old. We need to let the dust settle and see how the land lies.
I have never voted Conservative in my life and I cannot conceive of any plausible circumstances in which I would but there is no question whatsoever in my mind that, from the perspective of dealing with online threats to children, David Cameron has been the best Prime Minister the UK has ever had. Children in Britain have every reason to be grateful to him and, with the launch of #We Protect, children around the world similarly owe him a debt of gratitude. I await anxiously to see who will succeed him and earnestly hope that whoever it is shares his personal interest and passion.
However, otherwise, from the perspective of policy, our departure from the EU will have no obviously serious detrimental consequences for online child protection in the UK, at least not in the short to medium term. If the EU continues to be a major player in the online child protection space – and I have absolutely no doubt it will – it will be interesting to see if we develop any mechanisms to ensure we stay broadly in step with each other. Right now, tonight, I doubt there will be many EU politicians thinking about co-operating with the UK on almost anything. When the heat has gone out of things I am sure attitudes will mellow and a new modus vivendi will emerge.
Nevertheless, at a practical level there could be several excellent projects in the UK currently receiving funding from Brussels that will doubtless be having anxious moments. Maybe as the negotiations begin to sort out our exit from the EU specific consideration will be given to online child safety issues although someone will need to get on the case pretty sharply because otherwise my hunch is that it will not be high on anybody’s agenda.
I am hugely saddened by the vote to come out but I see it overwhelmingly as being a howl of protest against remote elites and their hand maidens. It has echoes in many other parts of the world and is truly a reflection of a deeper crisis of democratic politics.When I’m not worrying about online child protection that’s what keeps me awake at nights.