‘New Border’ based on technology could be used for North, says Foster

First Minister suggests ‘using data, using analytics, using new technology’

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster said a new ‘new border’ using  technology and data analytics could be put in place between the North and the Republic after the UK leaves the EU.

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster said a new ‘new border’ using technology and data analytics could be put in place between the North and the Republic after the UK leaves the EU.


Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster has raised the prospect of a “new border” based on technology and data analytics, after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

Speaking at a morning event on the fringes of the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Ms Foster said it would be impossible, as well as undesirable, to create a hard border after Brexit.

“We shouldn’t be looking backwards at borders. We should be looking at new borders in terms of using data, using analytics, using new technology in a way that we haven’t here before,” she said.

Prime minister Theresa May signalled in Birmingham this week that Britain is likely to leave the European single market after Brexit and senior ministers have suggested that the UK will leave the EU customs union too. Leaving the customs union would necessitate the monitoring and control of goods crossing the Border, unless the island of Ireland is granted a special status.

Ms Foster has also restated her opposition to the “All-Island Civic Dialogue”, which the Government will host in Dublin next month.

“It’s not a question of boycotting, I’ll just not be going and I made that clear right from the very start,” she said.

“There is absolutely no need for another superstructure to have this conversation.”

Her comments came ahead of a meeting of Cabinet Tuesday to discuss a memorandum on Brexit issues which has been prepared by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

The Government is also expected to announce the “All-Island Civic Dialogue”, to be held in Dublin on November 2nd, which will involve political parties, civic organisations, trade unions, business groups and non-governmental organisations from North and South.

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Sterling remained under pressure Tuesday morning, falling to a 31-year low against the dollar, although the FTSE is up, as weaker sterling makes British-produced goods more competitive internationally.

In turn, weaker sterling makes Irish firms selling into Britain less competitive. Speaking in advance of the Cabinet meeting, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said Brexit was a demanding issue and needed focused Government attention.

She said the Border between the North and the Republic was a key issue. Ms Fitzgerald said part of the task for the Government was ensuring other European states understood the position Ireland was in and our unique relationship with Britain and the common travel area between the two countries.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan told The Irish Times yesterday the Government may seek a special status for Northern Ireland as a solution to the threat of a hard border on the island.

This would seek “legal recognition of the unique status of the North and the circumstances on the island” as part of the arrangements when Britain leaves the European Union.

Contacts with the Northern Ireland Executive are likely to intensify before the next meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council, which includes all the ministers from the Dublin Government and the Northern Executive, in Armagh on November 18th .

It is understood that Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster has not been specifically briefed on the details of the Taoiseach’s proposal.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson was yesterday critical of Mr Kenny’s unilateral suggestion of a forum last summer, ascribing it to “domestic political reasons”.

However, he stressed the administrations in Dublin, London and Stormont were “working in a common cause” in seeking a special status for Ireland in the post-Brexit world.

What we’re really looking for is a special deal for the island of Ireland which enables free movement of goods and people on the island, and preserves the institutions we’ve created under the various agreements,” Mr Donaldson said. “The people we’ll need to convince are the EU.”

Mr Flanagan also stressed the need for the Brexit negotiations to take account of the Belfast Agreement, under which all citizens in the North are entitled to an Irish, and therefore an EU, passport.

“The Good Friday Agreement is a document that is going to have to be on the table at the negotiations,” he said.

Mr Flanagan has been engaged in intensive diplomacy with his EU counterparts in recent months and he said the “unique position” of the North was “appreciated”. However, senior officials say it will be a considerable challenge to transform that into a legally binding agreement that recognises a special status for the North.

Addressing the Conservative conference, Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire promised to work to ensure that Northern Ireland’s unique interests are protected in the Brexit negotiations.

“That’s particularly the case when it comes to the land border with the Republic of Ireland and the Common Travel Area which has served the UK and Ireland well for many decades. No-one wants to see a return to the borders of the past,” he said.