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Post-Brexit virtual border plan lacks detail

Eight months after the EU referendum and the British government is finally coming up with some thoughts on how it will manage the border with the Irish Republic following full withdrawal from the European Union.

So far we have had little more than airy platitudes about not wanting a return to the hard borders of the past.

That has not taken us very far in determining what arrangements will be in place to control the movement of people and goods between the UK and its only land border with an EU state.

Needless to say, this continued uncertainty has created considerable anxiety, particularly in the border areas and the business community, in terms of what the future holds.

This week the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation warned that around 1,000 hospitality workers who cross the border every day to go to work would be affected by any controls that may be imposed.

Chief executive Janet Gault said reimposing controls would be a retrograde step.

Of course, no one wants a return to border checkpoints and customs posts and all that that would entail.

But to date we have been given scant information about what is likely to happen in practical terms.

On Wednesday Tory Brexit secretary David Davis offered a bit more information to a Westminster scrutiny committee, telling them the British government would adopt technology to cover the movement of goods north and south.

He also admitted this scheme was `not going to be easy', in fact it would be expensive and require a lot of work.

Mr Davis added he was confident the UK, the Republic and the European Commission between them will be able to solve this issue.

From this testimony, it would seem we are inching towards a virtual border but we are a long way from knowing precisely what this will involve, what it will cost and how it will work on a day to day basis.

This issue also exposes the British government's complete lack of preparedness for a hard Brexit and the enormously complex matters that will need to be addressed.

It is expected that Theresa May will trigger Article 50 within days, beginning a two-year process of negotiations to extract Britain from the EU.

The border between north and south is just one of the difficult problems that she has to resolve and there will be many more, not least the push for a second independence referendum in Scotland.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has welcomed Mr Davis's assurance there will be no return to border posts but the wider public will suspend judgment until we see what measures will actually be put in place.

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