Northern Ireland parties sceptical over reported border technology proposal

Reports that a technology company has proposed a solution to the Irish border after Brexit have been greeted with scepticism in Northern Ireland.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long was asked about the report that the Government was considering technological solutions to the border impasse drawn up by Japanese tech giant Fujitsu.

According to a leaked document obtained by The Sun, the system would involve a vehicle-tracking system that used GPS and number plate recognition cameras.

The border between Newry and Dundalk(PA)

Mrs Long was highly sceptical of the idea and said the suggestion it could be rolled out in time for Brexit was “absolutely nonsense”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said “sceptical would be an understatement” about his views on the matter.

“The idea that we are going to put cameras up across the 300-mile border and that they are going to stay up, I think is pretty fanciful,” he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, centre, speaking to the media at Stormont after talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May (David Young/PA)

Mrs Long described the idea as “chasing unicorns”.

“I sympathise with the person in Fujitsu who wasted an hour on drawing up those plans, because that pretty much looks like how much effort went into it,” she said.

“It isn’t practical, it adds additional cost to business in Northern Ireland which it can ill afford, it doesn’t deal with regulatory checks and health checks on animals and other farm goods.

“It doesn’t answer any of the questions and we are back to where we were two-and-a-half years ago where people said there was a technological solution and none has emerged.

I am tired of people chasing unicorns, it has to stop, we don't have time

“What we now have is a kind of back of an envelope diagram that suggests that there is some sort of miraculous technical solution, let’s be honest, anyone who works in the IT sector, who has ever been involved in any IT project involving government, will know that a 30-day test period is optimistic to be polite.

“And the idea that after 30 days it would be ready to go live on an international border, and that we would be able to rely on it for future trade arrangements, is absolutely nonsense.

“We have to start to deal with reality.

“I am tired of people chasing unicorns, it has to stop, we don’t have time.”

Meanwhile, an agreement ensuring freedom of movement between the UK and Ireland for British and Irish citizens after Brexit is almost ready to sign, a British diplomat said.

British ambassador to Ireland Robin Barnett said London and Dublin have worked “intensively” on measures to ensure the continuation of the Common Travel Area (CTA).

The deal precedes Britain’s membership of the EU and allows citizens of both countries to live and work freely in either.

Robin Barnett (left), British ambassador to Ireland, said London and Dublin have worked ‘intensively’ on measures to ensure the continuation of the Common Travel Area (CTA) (Niall Carson/PA)

The ambassador wrote in a public letter: “I would like to reassure you that the UK and Irish governments have worked intensively on measures to ensure the continuation of the CTA.

“We have an agreement which is almost ready to sign.

I can assure all British citizens living in Ireland and all Irish citizens in the UK: you don’t need to take any action to protect your status under the CTA, or the rights associated with it

He said the EU has fully accepted that the CTA – a bilateral arrangement – will continue whatever the final outcome of the negotiations.

- Press Association

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