Technology could make a hard border disappear, but at a cost

IT IS AN all too familiar scene. Long lines of people and vehicles waiting to cross a border, paperwork all in a flutter and stony-faced customs officials rummaging through belongings and peering into the back of lorries. The question on many minds is whether technology can do away with such perturbations. And the answer is yes. New systems are making it easier to cross borders on land, at ports and in air terminals. Within a few years it should be possible, at least in theory, for a border to become invisible. People and goods would flow through without stopping, leaving all the formalities to take place electronically and out-of-sight.

This might appear the ideal answer to the seemingly intractable problem of the nature of the border between Britain and Ireland when Britain leaves the European Union. There is no appetite on either side for the return of a “hard” border of physical infrastructure, with its associated security and customs checks. But the legal constraints which retaining an open one would impose on Britain’s freedom to change its laws in ways that diverge from the EU’s are unacceptable to many on the British side, who see them as tantamount to keeping Britain in the EU.