Wednesday 26 September 2018

Cameras for border 'can avoid boots on ground'

A Swiss border crossing with Germany near Basel. The country allows German helicopters to fly over its border, a Westminister committee was told yesterday.
A Swiss border crossing with Germany near Basel. The country allows German helicopters to fly over its border, a Westminister committee was told yesterday.
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

A post-Brexit hard Border will have to be policed either with cameras or "boots on the ground", a top Swiss official has suggested.

There is no other way, said Lieutenant Colonel Rebekka Straessle, the Swiss Border Guard's chief of staff.

The Swiss/EU border operates with cameras on crossing points backed up by an intelligence process, Lt Col Straessle told Westminster's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

Lt Col Straessle said there are cameras on most of the border crossings, filming number plates. "You have either have people on the ground, boots on the ground, or you have technical means," she said, responding to a question about whether it was possible to have a border without physical infrastructure.

The British government has stressed that it does not want any physical infrastructure on the Border, and wants to maintain it "broadly as it is now".

UK chancellor Philip Hammond warned MPs last month that cameras and other infrastructure would be deemed a "legitimate target".

He said any physical aspects put in place would be seen as an affront to "those who do not recognise" the border on this island.

But Lt Col Straessle told British MPs yesterday that policing a hard border involves either cameras or manned checks: "I don't see a third way. For us, it is preferable to have technical means and to have an intelligence process in the background." The head of Switzerland's customs service, Dr Christian Bock, told the committee that mobile patrols also take place across the border region.

"When you say that you don't want, from historical political reasons, anything at the border, then you have to compensate," said Dr Bock.

"Then you have to compensate, in my view, with mobile patrols. At the end of the day you need people performing checks."

Dr Bock said he did believe a system could be designed for the Border here that didn't entail physical checkpoints.

But he said that would require "common patrols" between the UK and the Republic to find "irregularities", as well as an intelligence process to back this up.

"You need control points, not at the border, but somewhere in the country," Dr Bock said.

"You need controls not at the border, but at the enterprises. You need a system of some sort of pre-qualification, like the Authorised Economic Operator, and then you need a system for low-risk trade, or when you have trade of the same kind of stuff."

He said that for everyday goods, such as milk, "you don't need a system where you stop every time at the border".

Dr Bock also said German helicopters fly across the Swiss/German border, with staff from Switzerland on board.

He said checks take place 100pc of the time through risk-based data checks. Physical checks take place between 1pc and 2pc of the time, he said.

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