Brexit breakthrough? UK tech firm claims to have Irish border solution – will May listen?

A British firm has claimed to have devised a technological solution that will allow Theresa May and her European Union counterparts to scrap the hated Irish backstop, the Express reports. 

By JOE BARNES, BRUSSELS CORRESPONDENT

GSM, a Cheltenham-based tech firm, believes complex combination of microchips, scanners and shared ledgers offer the Prime Minister a viable alternative arrangement to the insurance mechanism to avoid a hard border.

Mrs May has pledged to make secure changes to her draft EU withdrawal agreement after MPs supported an amendment that urges the Government to scrap the backstop and replace it with “alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”. The Prime Minister discussed her intentions with the EU’s most senior officials during her visit to Brussels on Thursday.

She told Donald Tusk, the European Council president, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, that the so-called Brady amendment had given her the mandate to secure legally binding changes.

But according to EU sources, Mrs May failed to reveal what her “alternative arrangements” for the backstop actually are.

Andrew Bird, CEO of tech firm GSM, urged the Government and EU to consider technology in order to break the impasse.

He said: “We need to kill this myth that technology for solving the Northern Ireland backstop is not ready or secure enough.

“Trials in China have shown AI – or machine learning – to be more accurate at diagnosing brain tumours than doctors.

“In a world where lives can be saved using technology is it doing a disservice to the thriving UK tech industry to say it cannot solve this problem; particularly when the technology already exists and the premise is being used in the EU’s busiest port of Rotterdam.”

His firm has devised a method that tracks shipments using microchips and beacons and allows physical checks to be done away from the border.

Information on the shipment would be constantly updated and fed into a shared database that would allow inspection teams to monitor them remotely.

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Important standards data can also be inputted to ensure products that are in breach of EU regulations raise a red flag, enabling them to be stopped before crossing the border.

“I know the civil service and the EU are worried about VAT, taxes and excise duties and how to collect them but using self-executing Smart Contracts, these payments can be automated, triggering at the same time the goods cross the border,” Mr Bird added.

“In terms of security and reliability, this is the same technology that HSBC used to process over $250 billion in trade transactions last year so I think we can conclude it is safe and secure.

“Our border checks are already outdated. The Norway – Sweden border is five times as long as the UK’s border with Ireland and manages with just 14 border posts. It can do it as it has invested the time and money in researching and deploying smart technology.

“The UK can do the same.”

David Henig, a former UK trade negotiator, backed the use of technology but insisted it cannot be solely relied to manage the border.

He said: “There is definitely technology that can help with a Northern Ireland border solution, but the overall solution needs to be about more than technology, in particular we need to recall the need for traders to cooperate, and to prevent smuggling.”