So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Following the election of a Tory government with a mandate to further mass surveillance, we’re leaving the UK to avoid the possibility of having to add backdoors to our products at

Three dolphins jumping out of the water
Laura, Jo, and I are leaving the UK. That’s not us in the photo.
Photo courtesy: Quartl, Wikimedia Commons

An easy decision we’d rather not have made

Last week, less than one quarter of the electorate in the United Kingdom voted to give the Conservatives a 12-seat majority parliament. To those of you who voted Tory, I say great job: you’re the reason (and thus Laura, Jo, and myself) are leaving the United Kingdom.

This is not a decision that we’ve taken lightly. Neither is it the decision we would have made had the outcome of the election been different. And yet, it was an easy decision to take. By voting in a Tory government, you basically did not leave us any other choice.

I want you to understand why that is.

(And yes, if you voted Tory, we do hold you responsible and yes, you should feel ashamed of yourself, and no, we don’t want to hear your excuses.)

Why we must leave

Here, in no particular order, are some of the ramifications of electing a Tory government that make it impossible for us to carry out our mission of creating technology that protects human rights and resists mass surveillance while living in the UK:

Snoopers’ charter: mass surveillance & data retention

Within minutes of results indicating a likely Conservative majority government,” Home Secretary Theresa May expressed their desire to reintroduce the Snooper’s Charter. Unhindered by the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives will now seek to widen mass surveillance and data retention.

Government backdoors on messaging applications

Before the election, David Cameron stated that “should he be re-elected, a Tory government would plan to block encrypted messaging applications … unless the government gets backdoor access to users’ messages.” Well, guess what is building? And guess what we’re not going to do? That’s right, we’re not going to stay in a country where we might be forced to backdoor our products (and possibly not even be allowed to tell anyone about it).

Scrapping of the Human Rights Act

Another pre-election pledge by Cameron was that a Conservative government would scrap the Human Rights Act. Now he has appointed Michael Gove as Justice Minister and tasked him with doing just that. It would be ever so slightly ironic to stay in a country that just scrapped its human rights act when you’re trying to further the cause of human rights, don’t you think?

As a side note, it looks like Scotland may be able to keep the act. And, if they know what’s good for them — which the current election, if not the failed referendum this year, shows that they might — they’ll leave the UK (and stay in the EU) the first opportunity they get. If that was to happen, we’d definitely consider moving to Scotland.

Referendum on EU exit

Finally, Cameron promised a referendum on leaving the EU for 2017 (and it might actually happen before that). While Cameron is actually not in favour of a so-called “Brexit”, he wants to use the threat of one as a bargaining chip to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU. It’s quite possible that all this will backfire spectacularly as England shifts ever further right in its xenophobia and that the British will vote to leave the EU. If that happens, as a French citizen, I will most likely be forced to leave the country. I’d rather make that decision on my own terms and my own timeline. I have no intention of waiting two years in limbo to find out whether or not I can remain here and won’t be putting down roots in a place with such uncertainty.

Other reasons

The four reasons, above, are the ones that impact our work with directly. There are, of course, many other reasons that don’t impact us immediately on a personal level but which widen the already unsustainable systemic inequality that poses an existential threat for our entire species.

These include a further £12 billion of welfare cuts that will hit the most disenfranchised in society, the continued sabotage and subsequent piecemeal privatisation of the NHS, further outsourcing of law enforcement and the prison system to private firms like G4S, and support of secretive trade deals like TTIP that give multinational corporations greater power over national sovereignty.

Lee Williams puts it best: “I never thought I’d say a Tory victory feels like Christmas, but it really does. It’s just that we, the electorate, are the turkeys.”

Goodbye is the hardest word

I have loved living in England; especially in my beloved Brighton. (OK, I bitch about the trains every day, but then again, who lives in Brighton and doesn’t?)

When I came over, thirteen years ago, I was looking for an alternative to the post 9/11 USA that I’d been living in and I found that in the UK. Where there was paranoia and xenophobia, I found a more level-headed populace. Where there was extreme inequality, I found a social state. And where there was fear and self-censorship, I found lively and open discourse. That Britain is unrecognisable to me today. It has taken a little over a decade but the United Kingdom of today is far closer to the United States I left behind in 2002.

It’s here that I founded my first company, which is still going today, alongside It’s here that I learned how to run a business. It’s here that I remembered how to spell words properly in English again.

Over the years, I’ve also had the pleasure of contributing to my local community in my own small way: by running the Flash User Group in London for many years, hosting three international conferences, and co-founding the Brighton Digital Festival. I’m also honoured to be a fellow of the RSA — I believe strongly in the importance of their work and I hope I’ll be able to stay involved and help from abroad.

Thirteen years is a long time. I think of Brighton as home. And I’ve had the honour of meeting some great people and making some wonderful friends, all of whom I will miss dearly.

To those of you who are staying to fight, I say good luck. My heart is with you and I am confident that you will overcome this. I wish I could be alongside you but we must continue our battle elsewhere. If we stay, we cannot guarantee that we will not be forced to jeopardise the integrity of the tools that we’re building. By leaving, we have a better chance of succeeding in creating the tools that will help you in your battle also. For we’re all fighting the same war for the same reasons: to bring about an end to inequality, to protect human rights, and to strengthen democracy.

We might be leaving physically, but we’ll always be just a lightbeam away on the Interwebs.

Where will we go?

In a nutshell, we don’t know yet.

Nowhere is perfect. Especially if your criteria includes respect for human rights, a stable democracy, a fast Internet connection, good climate, and a friendly community of tech-savvy folks (who don’t belong to the cult of Silicon Valley) with whom we can possibly work together and knock back a few beers on Fridays.

Our list includes Germany (Berlin, Hamburg?), Sweden (Malmö, maybe Stockholm?), Switzerland (Zurich, Geneva?), Norway (Oslo?), Denmark (Copenhagen?), and Iceland (but, boy, is it apparently cold there!)

If you have any ideas, kind words of support, or want to show us around, we’re busy making a schedule so we can pop by and see some of those places and make a decision as soon as possible.

Ideally, we’ll be moving within a couple of months.