Designer shoes have more technology than the EU’s ‘answer’ to the Northern Ireland border question

‘You cannot run next generation trade platforms using technology that was designed before we even put a man on the moon’, argues Andrew Bird.

The question of the Irish border has been causing problems for the government as it attempts to secure a good Brexit deal for the UK.

They have refused to accept the EU’s initial proposal on the UK leaving the single market, to have a border in the Irish Sea where the EU crosses into the UK and with the improvements in technology, there is simply no reason why they would have to.

This week it looked like there may be some kind of solution to this ongoing debate, with reports that the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier was working on a new “protocol” that would use technology to minimise checks.

But a glance below the headlines showed that this development was less about 21st century technology and more about mimicking a 1960s supermarket.

We live in a world where machine learning has allowed brain tumours to be diagnosed by computers and raw minerals in Africa can be tracked to ensure it was not mined by child labour.

Yet under these ‘latest’ EU plans, goods could be tracked using barcodes on shipping containers under trusted trader schemes.


Barcode fraud has been a major issue for over ten years, and the last five have seen several high street names affected. Walmart were hit for millions of dollars and a woman in Australia managed to steal computer equipment using ‘reduced to clear’ stickers.

It is astonishing to think that in this age of unparalleled technological development, our political leaders seem to think that technology from the 1950s is genuinely the answer.

Every year, UK citizens lose millions to barcode fraud: how on earth can this be deemed as suitable for the safe transit of goods, let alone people, across borders?

Can you imagine a private enterprise revealing this as a potential solution to a business problem? They’d be laughed out of the boardroom. But it does show how under-informed our policy makers are about digitalisation.

We have the solution to the problem here in the UK. They are more likely to wear jeans and trainers than suits when they go to work in their distinctly un-corporate office space in Shoreditch or Bristol – and their sector is growing 2.6 times faster than the rest of the economy. Bright young businesses, with their knowledge of smart contracts, distributed ledger technologies and blockchain are much more likely to come up with answers than any number of committees where they still print out pages of documents and agendas instead of looking at them online.

We already have this technology embedded in luxury goods and even designer shoes: tech which will track and trace goods from source to eventual destination with the minimum need for human intervention. This is what the private sector has come up with whilst the public sector developed ‘e-borders’ which are no more ‘e’ than a postcard is an email.

The ‘Internet of Things’ is undergoing a Big Bang style expansion: in 2006 there were an estimated two million ‘things’ connected to it. By 2015, this had grown to 15 billion and by 2020 it is estimated 200 billion ‘smart things’, from phones to boilers to art work and handbags, will be connected: that is approximately 26 items for every living person on the planet – and they won’t be done by barcode.

The majority of these ‘smart objects’ are not in individuals’ homes – they are in – and used by – business. Businesses which may wish to trade across borders and which won’t see the point of backdating their digital processes to be part of some archaic ‘trusted trader’ barcode system.

I am sure even the most traditional politician has heard of cryptocurrencies, even if their knowledge only extends to how governments can regulate it. Its security is based on Blockchain, which allows us to build an immutable, hack-proof set of data. Distributed across the Blockchain, the data is impossible to erase or spoof, creating a highly reliable point of ‘trust’ – a reference point which can be used with confidence and considerably cheaper than these latest ideas.

It is astounding that so far into the Brexit negotiations, we are still fiddling around with outdated technologies and processes as a means to take the UK into a new era of trade. You cannot run next generation trade platforms using technology that was designed before we even put a man on the moon.

My own company has developed a product which permits full traceability and tracking of any asset, with constant monitoring and typically eliminates over one third of transit monitoring costs. If M. Barner and co could be dragged away from a committee on whether using an abacus would improve the chances of the EU’s accounts being signed off by the auditors, I’d be happy to demonstrate what the 21st century can offer.

Andrew Bird is the CEO of GSM and the founder of ‘Trust Passport’