Technical solution could be ‘piloted’ during post-Brexit transition period

Westminster committee says more trust and goodwill needed between Britain and EU

Technical solutions could prevent a hard border after Brexit if there was more trust and goodwill between Britain and the European Union, Westminster's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has claimed.

The committee’s report on the Northern Ireland backstop concludes that a technical solution could be designed, trialled and piloted within the 21-month transition period after Britain leaves the EU.

“Time is running out to reach common ground. There should be no attempt to use the Border as a lever or as a way of securing political advantage,” the committee’s chairman, Conservative MP Andrew Murrison, said.

“Mistrust over the backstop protocol has been heightened by lack of clarity on what exactly constitutes a ‘hard border’. My committee is calling for clarification of the term in a legally explicit way to ensure both parties share the same understanding of how the backstop can be avoided. My committee took good evidence to suggest that technical and systems-based solutions to ensure the border looks and feels as it does today are doable, but they require trust and goodwill.”



Two members of the committee, Independent Unionist Sylvia Hermon and Labour’s John Grogan, voted against adopting the report. The members who voted in favour were the DUP’s Ian Paisley, Jim Shannon and Gregory Campbell, Labour’s Kate Hoey and Conservatives Nigel Mills and Maria Caulfield.

The EU has dismissed proposals for a purely technical solution to the Border as untested and critics have described such ideas as “unicorns”. The report acknowledges that such solutions are not in place on any border anywhere in the world.

“This is not a simple, quick-fix solution and implementing it in Northern Ireland would represent a world-first. The balance of the evidence suggests that, far from being a ‘unicorn’, such a solution is possible and that it could be designed, trialled and piloted within the 21-month implementation period, which would be a substantial achievement. The key obstacle is the lack of trust and goodwill between negotiating parties rather than the absence of systems and technologies. It is not a promising start for the next phase, the determination of the future trading relationship,” it says.


The report is published as British and EU negotiators are struggling to reach agreement on changes to the backstop ahead of next Tuesday’s House of Commons vote on the Brexit deal. Speaking in Grimsby on Friday, the prime minister. Theresa May, said the changes she was seeking did not diminish her government’s determination to ensure that the Border remained open.

“The Belfast/Good Friday agreement was a landmark achievement for the UK government, the Irish Government, and the political parties in Northern Ireland. It brought peace to our country after many years of tragedy. The people of Northern Ireland are our people and their security and well-being is our security and well-being,” she said.

“But just as MPs will face a big choice next week, the EU has to make a choice too. We are both participants in this process. It is in the European interest for the UK to leave with a deal.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times