Technology could make a hard border disappear, but at a cost

February 15, 2019

It is an all too familiar scene. Long queues of people and vehicles waiting to cross a border, paperwork all in a flutter and stony-faced customs officials rummaging through belongings and peering into the backs of lorries. A question on many minds is whether technology can do away with such perturbations. And the answer is yes. New systems are making it easier to cross borders on land, at ports and in air terminals. Within a few years it should be possible, at least in theory, for a border to become invisible. People and goods would flow through without stopping, leaving all the formalities to take place electronically and out of sight.

This might appear the ideal answer to the seemingly intractable problem of the nature of the border between Britain and Ireland when Britain leaves the European Union. Neither side wants the return of a “hard” border of physical infrastructure, with its associated security and customs checks. But retaining an open border would impose legal constraints on Britain’s freedom to change its laws in ways that diverge from the eu’s. To many on the British side, this would be tantamount to keeping Britain in the EU.












If technology could make the border invisible on the ground, leaving legal checks to be done elsewhere, that might satisfy most parties. Yet as promising as the technology to do this is, in practice the cost of fully deploying the kit required for an open border is likely to be expensive, and the accompanying level of electronic surveillance too high for many to stomach, especially in Ireland.

Despite these concerns, a number of borders around the world are being modernised with new technology, in order to become more open. The starting-point is taking the “paper” out of the paperwork. Documentation involved in shipping goods from one country to another is going virtual. Electronic customs declarations are being made easier to submit, allowing the pre-clearance of shipments and the online payment of tariffs



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