More work needed on technological solution for Border – customs veteran

Former Swedish customs director says technology ‘really there’ to avoid hard border

Lars Karlsson, a former director of customs in Sweden, said that there had been little examination of whether or not technology could provide a solution to the Border question

Lars Karlsson, a former director of customs in Sweden, said that there had been little examination of whether or not technology could provide a solution to the Border question

 

More practical work could be done to examine how “smart” technology could replace the contentious “backstop” solution to avoid a hard Irish border after Brexit, a former Swedish customs official said.

Lars Karlsson, a former director of customs in Sweden, said that there had been little examination of whether or not technology could provide a solution to the Border question.

The political discussion around whether or not a “smart border” could provide a solution was a different question, he said, and it is difficult to consider the practical possibilities before the political question.

“I still think that there is not that much practical work done and that has more to do with the internal processes of government and of course the political process as well,” he told BBC’s Today radio programme.

Mr Karlsson’s ideas, which have resurfaced after his appearance on the BBC programme, were set out in a 46-page report that he presented to the European Parliament in November 2017.

His report, Smart Border 2.0: Avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland for customs control and the free movement of persons, was seized on by pro-Brexit MPs opposed to the backstop in the EU-UK divorce deal.

Technology use

The Government and the European Union have repeatedly ruled out technology as an answer to avoid a hard border.

Borderlands

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They have dismissed the so-called “max fac” or “maximum facilitation” solutions proposed by pro-Brexit MPs, arguing that the technology does not currently exist to make the backstop redundant.

Mr Karlsson, a former senior figure in the World Customs Organisation with almost 35 years of experience in working on customs, said the technologies are “really there” and that avoiding a hard border with the use of technology was “really doable” within international customs law and regulations.

There would be no requirement for any infrastructure at the Border if the UK and the EU agree to “alternative ways of fulfilling border formalities before and after the Border,” he said.

Cross-Border traders could operate without the need for Border checks by having companies register exports and their mode of transport in advance online using computer systems, according to Mr Karlsson’s solutions to avoid a hard border.

Importers on the opposite side of the Border doing the same.

Online criticism

To reduce costs, existing GPS technology, including the driver using their mobile phone, could be used to ensure the transport of the goods from the exporter on one side of the Border to the importer on the other.

Mr Karlsson said he had discussed his ideas with the UK government and state agencies.

“I have only been involved in the dialogue around can it be done or not,” he said.

Mr Karlsson’s findings have drawn strong criticism online. He told The Irish Times that he sometimes feels that he and other experts “get caught” in the political debate around the controversial Border issue.

“I don’t feel like this is something simple or this border is not complicated,” he said, noting that he was not taking any stand “good or bad” on Brexit.

He described the Irish Border as “one of the most difficult and challenging borders of the world”.

“It is naturally extremely difficult,” he said. “That is why I say that both parties need to go beyond what has been done before and use a simplified model that makes it possible to move goods in a more facilitated and simple manner than anywhere else in the world without border controls and infrastructure.”

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