Technology 'cannot solve border problem', former Brexit official warns

A road sign for Customs and Excise just outside Newry. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association

A former senior Brexit official has warned that technology alone cannot solve the Irish border problem.

Karen Wheeler, who was in charge of delivering a "frictionless" border after the UK leaves the European Union, said the British civil service had done all it could to prepare for no deal when Brexit was due to happen in March.

However, she warned that civil servants' preparations could not lessen the gravity of the border issue.

"I think we felt we had done everything we could to mitigate as far as we could, but there were some areas of no deal where really the consequences did feel particularly difficult," she told an Institute for Government event in London yesterday.

"Of course, goods and trade at the Channel and Northern Ireland was one of the other areas where you can't mitigate and all you can do is cope with the consequences."

Ms Wheeler said it was "extremely difficult" for British civil servants to plan for a no deal in Northern Ireland because they were not able to discuss plans with Irish civil servants.

An Alternative Arrangements Commission, chaired by Tory MPs Nicky Morgan and Greg Hands, has suggested that technology to allow an open border with the Republic would be ready in three years.

But Ms Wheeler, who resigned her role as head of the Revenue & Customs Brexit border delivery group last month, said: "Technology alone is not going to solve that border problem.

"(It) has to be done in a way that works on both sides of the border which is extremely difficult to achieve when we are not able to discuss these things with Irish colleagues."

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