Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 15 October 2018

New hi-tech Brexit plan does not cover agriculture and cannot avoid 'reality of a return to a hard border'

The Irish border near Newry, Co Down (David Young)
The Irish border near Newry, Co Down (David Young)

Rob Merrick

People crossing the Border would have to register in advance to avoid checks and delays after Brexit under a hugely controversial plan being considered British officials. Anyone without "fast-track movement" clearance would have to use approved crossing points or would be "considered to have entered the state irregularly", the study suggests.

Despite British prime minister Theresa May's insistence that the Border will continue to have no "physical infrastructure", both CCTV and cameras to track vehicle number plates would be needed at some crossing points, according to the blueprint.

Nevertheless, the British leader has told MPs she has "asked officials to look at it very carefully", adding: "I believe it gives some very good proposals for solutions".

The decision to consider the plan - put forward in Smart Border 2.0: Avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, a report commissioned by a European parliamentary committee - was strongly criticised by the Government here, which said the proposals would break Mrs May's pledge of no "physical infrastructure and associated checks" after Brexit.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs pointed to the Phase One Brexit deal agreed by May last December.

"The UK gave a guarantee that a hard border, including any physical infrastructure and associated checks and controls will be avoided. This report proposes the opposite."

Peter Hain, the former Northern Ireland Secretary, went further, warning the proposal to pre-register travellers "would be risking immediate civil unrest".

"If I was Northern Ireland Secretary and this report came on to my desk, its next stop would be the bin," Hain said.

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Theresa May has asked officials to study the report as she scrambles for a solution to the border dilemma. In December, she agreed to "full alignment" of regulations across the entire UK if necessary to avoid the return of border posts and checks, which could become a magnet for terrorists.

But she has been accused of reneging on that agreement, rejecting the EU's proposal of a "common regulatory area" across Ireland if other solutions to avoid a hard border fail.

Instead, the UK government has vowed to leave the EU customs union, putting its faith in technology to avoid checks - while failing to rule out the return of cameras at the crossing.

"The proposal does not remove the need for a border with checks; rather, it is designed to make such a border as frictionless and open as possible," states the report, carried out for the European Parliament's policy department for citizens' rights and constitutional affairs.

A British government spokesman confirmed that Brexit officials were studying the Smart Border 2.0 report, after Ms May's little-noticed comment in her Commons statement last Monday.

But he added: "This isn't our report, it was produced by the EU. Our commitment remains that we want no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland - and no physical infrastructure at the border. The prime minister has said that any number of times - and the position hasn't changed."

The proposals include:

Passport controls for people who are neither Irish nor UK citizens, and therefore not covered by the Common Travel Area provisions that allow UK and Irish citizens to travel freely between the two countries. Irish and UK citizens would be cleared by automatic machines at the Border using RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology to check "enhanced drivers' licences". Anyone without "fast-track movement" clearance would have to use approved crossing points or would be "considered to have entered the state irregularly".

At least two lanes in each direction at major road crossings - a "free movement lane" for travellers covered by the Common Travel Area rules and the machine-readable documents to prove it; a second lane for everyone else.

Physical barriers and CCTV for road traffic. Trusted traders would register on a database of 'Authorised Economic Operators', and apply for a "simplified export/import declaration".

The report says: "At the Border, the mobile phone of the driver is recognised/identified and a release note is sent to the mobile phone with a permit to pass the Border opening the gate automatically." Other traders would have to stop for a conventional customs check.

Crucially, the report does not cover movement of agricultural products - subject to strict EU regulations.

Sunday Independent

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