Irish and EU must stop ridiculing Border technology

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Deal or no deal, we are about to enter a phase of Brexit where technology must be de-ridiculed. The backstop, so unsuccessfully de-dramatised, will otherwise be permanent. In terms of avoiding a hard border, there is no alignment with the EU’s customs union, single market and VAT area that can match the backstop arrangement of keeping Northern Ireland in all three, yet that is the minimum standard being set for the future trading relationship.

Only technology can make it possible to leave the backstop and maintain that standard, short of a Brexit so soft it is politically inconceivable.

The backstop is asymmetric around the UK, with just its customs union extending to Britain. Created to reassure unionists, this adds a number of risks and opportunities for all political players, but everything hinges on an internal UK sea border, where the potential of technology will also be decisive.

If there is a no-deal Brexit, ironically bought about by the backstop, the Republic will have to put up a hard border or accept an internal EU sea border or some combination of both.

Technology will determine the balance of that combination, and how quickly its impact can be mitigated. The less that technology can help at the Border, which is primarily a political problem, the more must be done at the ports, which will become an economic problem.

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All of this is very awkward after two years of portraying any interest in technological solutions as the preserve of dreamers, spoofers and idiots.

For around six months after the EU referendum, technology was a topic of serious consideration in the UK and Ireland, until negotiating positions led London to claim it could solve everything and Dublin and Brussels to insist it could solve nothing. These positions then hardened into dogmas that will be painful to abandon.

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