Possibility of using tech to facilitate an open border is back under discussion
Ministers have resurrected an ambitious plan to use technology to maintain an open border in Ireland after Brexit, it has emerged.
The Cabinet yesterday discussed whether so-called “maximum facilitation” – or Max Fac – could be used to avoid having to erect customs posts between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Max Fac would theoretically work by tracking the movements of registered vehicles when they travel across the border at approved crossings – eliminating the need for manual on-the-ground checks. Other technologies – such as sensors, cameras, or drones – could also be used to track vehicles that are not registered.
Pro-Brexit ministers lobbied for the system to form the basis of the government’s Brexit proposals earlier this year.
But the idea was described as “magical thinking” by the EU and did not feature at all in the Brexit blueprint agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers in July.
HMRC boss Jon Thompson also warned that introducing Max Fac could end up costing UK businesses £20bn a year.
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At the moment, the two proposals for avoiding a had Irish border are either extending the post-Brexit transition period, or keeping the UK in a customs union with the EU as a “backstop” alternative.
Following this morning’s Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman confirmed a report in The Sun that Max Fac was back on the table.
He said: “There was discussion in Cabinet about the fact the withdrawal agreement recognises and keeps open the potential for alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
“Both the text of the Northern Ireland protocol itself and the outline political declarations note ‘the Union’s and the United Kingdom’s intention to replace the backstop solution on Northern Ireland by a subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland’.”
He added: “One possible alternative arrangement could involve technological solutions.”
Asked if the necessary technology had been invented yet, the spokesman said: “I think in terms of what technological solutions could be, they’re all things that are being looked at [or] have been looked at.”
The prime minister also held talks in Downing Street last night with Brexiteers including Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson to discuss using technology on the Irish border.
Eloise Todd, boss of the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign, said: “This breakthrough is based on technology that Number 10 admits doesn’t exist yet. We are reaching new levels of desperation with the government eager to paper over the cracks of a deal that would leave British families poorer, take away our say over EU laws and threaten the integrity of the UK.”