Post-Brexit Border unlikely to be frictionless, Swedish expert says

Ex-customs official concedes crossing registration and CCTV ‘too much’ for some

Taoiseach  has rejected  suggestion that people  crossing the Border would have to pre-register. File photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

Taoiseach has rejected suggestion that people crossing the Border would have to pre-register. File photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images


Neither of the two border models being primarily considered for post-Brexit Ireland would create a frictionless border on the island, says a Swedish customs expert who has advised the EU.

Former Swedish customs official Lars Karlsson presented a 46-page report to the European Parliament in November showing how technological solutions could maintain as open an Irish Border as possible and examining whether the Norway-Sweden and Canada-US borders could serve as models.

Pro-Brexit MPs and other “Leave” supporters have seized on the report, Smart Border 2.0: Avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland for customs control and the free movement of persons, as offering solutions to the Border issue.

British prime minister Theresa May has asked her officials to consider it.

The EU and the UK broke an impasse on Monday when Britain agreed to include legal text in the withdrawal agreement on a “backstop” arrangement to maintain an open Irish Border post-Brexit, but without saying how.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has rejected a suggestion that people and traders crossing the Border would have to pre-register after Brexit, a proposal contained in Mr Karlsson’s report.

He has also ruled out Mrs May’s suggestion of the US-Canada border model as an option.


Irish officials have dismissed the Norway-Sweden border as a possible model because it would require physical infrastructure that would breach the EU-UK agreement in December to avoid a hard border.

“I never said that the Norway-Sweden border was a frictionless or a smart border in itself,” Mr Karlsson told The Irish Times. “It’s the smartest border that we have.”

It was not a 100 per cent “smart” open border, he said, but it was tested, operational and approved by EU institutions and could be used as a base to work from. His report states most goods traffic crossing the 1,600km border takes three to nine minutes to clear, with longer waiting times at peak periods at 14 of the more than 80 crossings that have customs checks.

In contrast, there are more than 270 roads crossing the 500km barrier-free Irish Border.

Mr Karlsson said it was technically possible to develop a frictionless border through number-plate recognition and fast passage for “trusted traders” but that such solutions would require agreement between EU and UK politicians, which was not his role to assess.

The former deputy director general of Swedish customs recognised that registration of cross-border travellers or even a CCTV camera on the Border was “too much” for some people and was being defined as “a hard border”, but he had to look at the “real consequences” of a neighbouring country leaving the EU.

“I do see that there is a possibility to do the most frictionless border in the world at that Border,” he said.

If both sides fail to reach a political deal for the Border by the time the UK exits the EU on March 29th, 2019, then he believes technological solutions could minimise problems.

“We should make that Border as frictionless as possible, as close to zero infrastructure as possible, and that is possible if both parties will agree to that,” he said.

Checks under sanitary rules, a key regulatory area for agricultural trade, could be covered under the trusted trader arrangements, he said.