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UK trade secretary at CES: tech 'indispensable' to post-Brexit prosperity

After an underwhelming presence in years past, the British government is planting its flag at the world's biggest tech show.

Dr. Liam Fox, the UK Secretary of State for International Trade, defended Britain's presence at the world's largest tech show, calling the sector "indispensable" to the country's prosperity in a post-Brexit world.

During a speech at CES in Las Vegas, Fox said the British Department of International Trade (DIT) had brought the largest delegation of UK tech companies ever to annual tech show. That, he said, was indicative of the UK's global outlook.

"There is a world outside Europe and there'll be a time beyond Brexit," Fox told a room of representatives from the UK tech industry. "We need to prepare for it."

This year the UK government brought more than 100 companies to the show, up from 60 in 2018 and 56 in 2017. It signals a step-change in attitude by the UK, which has been overshadowed by big delegations from other countries, such as France, in the past. The decision to engage with the wider tech world on the international stage at CES is a timely one, given that the UK is due to leave the EU and strike out on its own in March this year. 

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Fox came under fire for his trip to LA and Las Vegas.

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Two years ago, Gary Shapiro, CEO of the CTA, which organizes the tech show, hit out at the UK on stage at CES, saying the country's lack of support for its tech companies should be a "source of embarrassment." Shapiro said government ministers had previously told him they could get approval to go to other tech events, but CES was "frowned upon" because it's in Las Vegas.

It's a problem Fox is facing right now. The government minister has been criticized for attending not only CES, but the Golden Globes during key Brexit negotiations. The prominent Brexit-supporting politician says he wants to use the show as an opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the world what UK tech is made of, and strengthen relationships with key partners in the US.

The UK boasts one of the strongest tech industries in Europe, and will want to ensure that remains the case following its divorce from the EU. It attracted more foreign venture capital funding in the first half of 2018 than France, Germany and Sweden combined and contributed roughly £40 billion ($51BN) in digital exports to the economy last year. The country specializes in fintech and AI, such as Google's DeepMind, and is making significant investments in driverless cars and 5G.

"UK tech is some of the best in the world -- it's ambitious and confident and ready to grow," he said. "We're living in an increasingly globally competitive environment, and whether it's DIT or other government departments, we need to lend the support to British business, to promote British business in a way that some of our competitors in the past have done better than ourselves."

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