How will Boris fix the Irish border problem?

Boris ‘Kipper’ Johnson appears to believe that technological solutions can quickly be found for the Irish border problem. Everyone in the computer industry knows that is fantasy, which would lead to an orgy of criminality.

Right now, clever people are thinking about juicy ways to make money from a new land frontier, or just to cause trouble. My own taste runs more to throwing grit in bureaucracy than throwing mud at surveillance cameras, but readers can probably think of far worse things to do.

We should be thinking about another side to this issue. The day is not far off when all road vehicles will be permanently tracked, much as mobile phones and airliners already are. This will be part of the self-driving revolution, promised to reduce vehicle usage, air pollution, and road accidents. In principle, having a tracker in your car should be voluntary, but of course government and insurance companies will make it compulsory.

If Mr Kipper gets his way, every border-crosser in Ireland will be tracked. Not just vehicles and the commercial goods they carry, but also all passengers, human, animal, and explosive. There will be penalties for evasion, massive databases to be hacked by cyber-criminals, and huge scope for corruption. Mission creep will lead to facial recognition software, cross-correlation with phone data, etc.

But BoJo’s folly may have a silver lining. Back in 1964 the Smeed Report on Road Pricing spelled out how road users ought to pay the costs they impose upon others. It contained so much good sense that successive governments buried it, but Smeed’s ideas must prevail eventually. A future in which every vehicle is tracked (and charged) for every yard it moves is scary, but it would solve many problems near me in south-east London.

Transport for London expects a new Silvertown Tunnel under the Thames to open in 2025, and apparently they are planning to charge users by some kind of Smeed-type vehicle tracking. Their record on the Congestion Charge and the Dartford Crossing does not inspire confidence and I predict some sort of half-cocked bodgery with a souped-up Oyster Card, plus yet more cameras and more ways to extort money from innocent victims.

As part of being a full-service political party we need to think ahead about how the surveillance society interacts with transport policy, too often a stamping ground for incompetent and vainglorious politicians. My own view is that having every vehicle intimately tracked is an acceptable trade-off for the privilege of driving. But it is a dirty trick on the Irish to make them guinea pigs to find the snags.

* Anthony Durham retired after careers as a research scientist and computer software publisher and is a long-serving member of the Lib Dems, living in Greenwich

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9 Comments

  • If they truly believe in technological solutions they would be wise to go to the EU to work out the mutually acceptable criteria they needed to achieve to deliver a no/low-friction border. Presumably they would have no issue with the existing backstop arrangement then as a backstop “just in case” the tech solutions weren’t delivered /in time! Mr Johnson might then optimistically sell that deal !

  • It will be manned by unicorns and leprechauns and other mythical beasts under what ever loon DePiffel appoints. Mad you say, yes they are stark raving dangerously bad and mad, but that alas is the government we have.

  • Matt (bristol) 24th Jul '19 - 7:59pm

    I find it bizarre that it hasn’t been remarked on that the North-South Irish border is coming up for it’s 100th birthday.

    …Having been basically created by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, (passed while the Irish Civil War was still going on), formalised further by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and amended further by a three-government treaty in 1925-6.

    That border was finally ratified by the League of Nations. I agree that any effective cross-border solution will need some kind of arbitration body to oversee it (and Unionists should reflect that the more complex their demands for an electronic open border are, the more likely this creates a precedent for pooled sovereignty across the entire province.

    Also, given the experience of Chinese muslims, we should watch this whole thing, as you say, very, very closely.

  • “Also, given the experience of Chinese muslims, we should watch this whole thing, as you say, very, very closely.”

    Are you for real? What strange world do you live in, if the people of Ulster vote to rejoin the rest of Ireland that is their call. I know Aileen and Co will be miffed but they are authors of their own misfortune (and to be blunt I’d cry no tears for them) but to compare them with the concentration camps in China, I ask again what fecking world are you in?

  • …………….How will Boris fix the Irish border problem?………………

    I don’t know how he’ll fix any problem; May’s, “My way or nothing”, seemed to mellow when faced with reality, but I can’t see Johnson changing his “Titanic strategy” (Full ahead; a ‘can-do’ attitude will move the iceberg”).

    If memory serves; in ancient Rome, duiring an emperor’s triumphal celebration, there was a slave whose duty was to whisper, in the emperor’s ear, “”Memento Mori” (“remember you are mortal”) to prevent their ego leading them to dangerous excesses; and, boy, did the the Romans knew a thing or two about the danger of egos….

    Looking at Johnson’s new cabinet I see no-one who will perform that duty,

  • The reality is that there are no technical problems in implementing an invisible border. The main issue in keeping control of our borders is to do with immigration. This is what has been highlighted in the public debate. We have long standing and close co-operation with the authorities in Dublin to keep out foreigners. It works quietly behind the scenes.
    As far as number plate recognition is concerned – this is the technology used on the new bridge over the Mersey at Runcorn. If you do not have a pass you must pay. Otherwise the registered vehicle owner gets a demand.
    All the evidence I have seen leads to the conclusion that the co-operation is there now.
    The problem is of course that if there are import duties to be paid, this will costs businesses, especially small businesses money which they cannot afford. They will have to be required to send in returns, and they will not have the resources to do this.
    But that will be for the future. In the meanwhile all that is needed is a form of words.
    Oh, and for the Conservatives to prepare for a winter General Election in a few months time.

  • Technology may enable the majority of taxes and duties to be collected, but the integrity of the single market is still threatened because there is no way cameras will keep American chlorinated chicken out of the republic. And there are 200 roads crossing the border, that’s a lot of infrastructure.
    If the technology is on the border, then it’s not an invisible border, it’s something for the hot heads to tear down. And then, as Tom Harney points out, there is the matter of controlling immigration. I am intrigued to know how the Irish government will prevent “foreigners” from flying into Dublin at breakfast time, lunch in Belfast and dinner in Glasgow.
    Only possible solution I can think of is to simply kick the can down the road and insert in the political declaration a promise to keep the current system and then look at the technological solutions again in 5 years time.

  • Nonconformistradical 25th Jul '19 - 11:22am

    “If the technology is on the border, then it’s not an invisible border, it’s something for the hot heads to tear down.”

    Yep. Just as the gilets jaunes have been wrecking speed cameras all over France.

  • om Harney 25th Jul ’19 – 9:56am…………The reality is that there are no technical problems in implementing an invisible border. The main issue in keeping control of our borders is to do with immigration. As far as number plate recognition is concerned – this is the technology used on the new bridge over the Mersey at Runcorn. If you do not have a pass you must pay. Otherwise the registered vehicle owner gets a demand. All the evidence I have seen leads to the conclusion that the co-operation is there now……………..

    If immigration was the problem between Eire and NI then that would be happening now with an open border..
    As far as tracking vehicles goes that’s fine but what about their contents; a smuggler’s charter, As an Irish spokesman said,,,If the UK does a deal with the USA what is to stop cheap chlorinated chicken, hormone enhanced beef, GM crops, and foodstuffs (pies, burgers, etc.) containg them, ending up in the EU.

    Have we forgotten the ‘horsemeat scandal’ (Which BTW was discovered by Irish regulators NOT those whose numbers were just a token force in the UK) so quickly

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