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Guess who’s gone chasing the Border technology unicorn…  February 12, 2019

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.



For writing in the Irish Times one will read… 

…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.

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

He claims that:

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.

Except, except. If Emerson bothered to examine what those who are expert in this area say, or even bring some of his not inconsiderable intelligence to bear on the issue, he would realise that there is no ‘technological’ solution. Indeed he says it himself in the very article that ‘Of course, they still cannot solve everything – but they must be embraced to solve anything.’. Is he arguing that for purely tactical reasons Dublin and the EU and London should dissemble about this issue? Hard to tell. But the logic of what he says is inescapable. He argues that in order to save the soft Border we must accept there won’t be a soft Border… 

Two questions are now likely to arise: should some level of hardware be tolerated if technology can reduce it to the bare minimum? Even more controversially, should covert equipment be installed on the grounds that nobody can attack it if they cannot find it?

It is safe to assume the Border is already lined with hidden cameras. Automatic number plate recognition is often cited as a basic requirement for an electronic frontier. UK authorities can be coy about this technology and notably have worked out an exemption to revealing its whereabouts under the Data Protection Act.

In other words there would be surveillance, installations and so on at the border. That’s not the Border we have today – there may be hidden cameras or there may not be, but there is a distinction between those and a systemic programme of surveillance on a border of all commercial and other traffic. If Emerson doesn’t get that then what does he get?

And his faith in technology is not born out by y’know, actual experts in this field who have long argued the contrary. As here, and here, and here and here and here and here and here and at this point I lost the will to live so many potential links there were.

And even with all those, even slightly more sympathetic commentators note that…

These measures could create a low friction border, but not a no friction border. The best example of a low friction high-tech border is the one between Sweden and Norway.

And that is no-one’s definition of a seamless invisible border.

Emerson has as much access to the internet as you or I. All he has to do is follow the links. That he offers the above is absolutely contradictory, and arguably deeply self-serving.

Moreover it underscores an even deeper contradiction. If technology is the answer then there should be no problem with the backstop because technology is the answer and a technological solution is at hand and therefore a backstop will be averted.

But of course he knows there is no technological solution, that the backstop will come into effect and…were he to admit that there is not technological solution that would be inconvenient because that would mean that logically Dublin and the EU were correct in regard to the backstop – and moreover that those who push Brexit were incorrect. And that would never do, would it?

Rather like the comment of his from the previous week which was sufficiently vacuous to appear here at the weekend, it appears that Emerson is mainlining tropes from hard Brexit proponents. The stuff then about the US and EU having no trade agreements was particularly wrong-headed. This latest is dispiriting, but more dispiriting is that he doesn’t bother to examine them. It’s not as if there’s a dearth of information that proves conclusively that what he is saying is entirely incorrect.

And let’s return to the actual history. This from the Guardian this week notes:

In the immediate post-referendum confusion in the summer of 2016, Ireland’s then prime minister, Enda Kenny, spoke of a “virtual border” and “ways of dealing with modern technology in terms of checking trade”.:

Technical work began in Dublin on automatic licence plate recognition systems and trusted trader schemes. London was on the same wavelength.

“It will cost us a lot of work on technology to maintain border control on goods but without having border posts, but that’s what we intend to do,” the then Brexit secretary, David Davis, told MPs.

But by February 2017, Kenny was exasperated by the lack of ideas from Downing Street, and alarmed by his first sighting of Irish studies on the feasibility of such a fix.

Cameras for licence plate recognition would be a target for dissident groups, leading to the need for policing, and thus extra targets. To fight smuggling, which would be encouraged by the waiving of checks for small traders, customs officers would need to be present. “The administrative and fiscal burden on the traders involved cannot be underestimated,” Ireland’s Office of the Revenue Commissioners said.

Emerson ignores completely the fact that this has been looked at directly in relation to the Border as it exists on this island.

And a final thought, the Wired piece linked to above has some excellent analysis including this:

Official but conservative figures, since only traffic on main roads has been counted, show there are 2.12 million HGV movements across the Irish border every year. That works out at around 6,000 a day.

Trade wise, more goods are exported from Northern Ireland (NI) to the Republic of Ireland (ROI). NI exports £2bn per annum to ROI while it’s just over £1bn from ROI to NI.

It depends on the Brexit final deal whether or not restrictive tariffs or border checks, so it is difficult to say with any certainty how Brexit will affect this trade, says Seamus Leheny, policy manager for Northern Ireland at the Freight Transport Association (FTA). There are over 260 roads between NI and ROI, which is more than along the entire EU Eastern frontier. “Technology will have a limited scope as realistically it couldn’t be employed on every single road” he says.“The primary problem regarding Brexit and the Irish border question [is] the border is unique with no current system anywhere in the world that could be replicated,” says Leheny. “We wait for a solution but to date nothing or nobody has come forward with it. Hopefully checks will not be required when Brexit finally happens.”


1. deiseach - February 12, 2019

Can you imagine the scenes if it emerged that there were hidden cameras along the border to enforce custom regulations but their location was being kept a secret? You wouldn’t need to imagine the scenes, YouTube would groan under the weight of videos of balaclava-clad boyos smashing each and every camera to bits with hurleys.


WorldbyStorm - February 12, 2019

The script writes itself – I think it would be a rolling catastrophe


2. makedoanmend - February 12, 2019

Trust but verify is the order of day regarding trade between states within the EU. This means that a certain number of lorries are randomly checked physically to ensure no monkey business occurs. The numbers checked are low but the checking is done randomly. Additionally, phyto and sanitary checks are more arduous – especially with live animals. When our livestock arrives in France, for example, there needs to be pens and infrastructure to so that health checks can be carried out. Often there are regulations about ensuring the watering and foddering of the animals.

For countries without the EU, verification become the most important consideration. “Third” countries, who have different standards, must meet the standards of the EU when exporting to us, or different standards between the third country & the EU are agree by treaty. All animals needs to be checked for disease and welfare. The third country and the EU also need to agree mechanisms for enforcing compliance and for collecting penalties in cases of non-compliance.

And this overview is pretty simplistic. No export-import system anywhere in the world has found a way to rely on technology alone.

I think Newton is afraid Team Unionism will bear much of the responsibility from Brexit economic fall-out, and he already knows that many sections of the business and farming community in the six counties are backing the back-stop because they are better clued-up to the realities of hard borders than he is. That the Irish Times allows this drivel to be published says something about its editorial policy. What that something is, I don’t know.


WorldbyStorm - February 12, 2019

That’s really true re the way it continues to be published and it’s not like Emerson is unthinking – I suppose the narrative fits his brand of supposedly moderate unionism

Liked by 1 person

benmadigan - February 13, 2019

“supposedly” is the key word there!
By the way – what is/are the main feature(s) of “moderate” Unionism?


deiseach - February 13, 2019

It’s called Trevor Ringland.


3. GW - February 12, 2019

The flaccid slurry pit of stupid that is Brexit will continue to bestir itself and belch forth regular puffs of methane, despite the fact that nothing much will happen before the middle of March.

There commercial opportunities for snake-oil tech to the wilfully believing may well be extremely lucrative. Don’t forget that securocracy is increasingly privatised.

Let’s see what April brings.


benmadigan - February 13, 2019


APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.


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