Border can be invisible but cameras needed, Swiss customs advise MPs

Technology, intelligence and joint British-Irish mobile patrols deemed necessary

The Border could remain invisible after Brexit using technology, intelligence and joint British-Irish mobile customs patrols, the head of Switzerland's customs service said.

But Christian Bock told the Northern Ireland affairs committee at Westminster that physical checks were unavoidable, either at the Border itself or elsewhere. "You need control points, not at the Border, but somewhere in the country," he said.

Switzerland, which is not in the European Union, has customs borders with five of the six countries on its borders and Dr Bock said that cross-border customs co-operation is crucial. He said that German police helicopters patrol within Switzerland, with Swiss personnel on board.

“We are working together. There are common teams, we have even common police posts where we are working together and this collaboration with colleagues, with the different security forces, is in my view extremely efficient,” he said.


Movement of goods

Dr Bock said simplified procedures were available to farmers who had to cross the border frequently, and that traders in commodities like milk could submit monthly returns.

He acknowledged, however, that each movement of goods, including livestock, across the border had to be recorded and declared.

The head of Switzerland's border guard force, Col Rebekka Straessle, said they use cameras on every border crossing point to monitor licence plates.

The British government has ruled out any “physical infrastructure”, including cameras, on the Border but Col Straessle said the only alternative was manned checkpoints.

"You have either people on the ground, boots on the ground, or you have technical means," she said. Liv Kristin Rundberget, assistant director of the Norwegian customs service, agreed some physical infrastructure at the Border was unavoidable, although Norway and Sweden ease the administrative burden by operating shared customs posts.

DUP MPs on the committee said they were encouraged by what they heard from the Swiss customs chief. However, Dr Bock pointed out that such an efficient border is expensive.

The Swiss customs service is, after the army, the biggest unit of the federal government, employing 5, 000 customs officers with an annual budget €1.3 billion.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times