The expert who claims technology can solve the Northern Ireland customs issue has admitted he has not visited all of the border.
Lars Karlsson, the author of the EU paper Smart Border 2.0 who is frequently cited by Brexiteers, has “not been to all the 200+ border crossings” and can’t remember how long he spent in the region when he was last there in 2016.
Giving evidence to the Commons’ Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Karlsson also said he had not met with Police Service Northern Ireland, who are concerned about violence, drug smuggling and criminal gangs at the border post-Brexit.
Karlsson has insisted, however, that technology and checks away from the border can take away the need for a backstop in the Brexit deal.
Brexiteers, such as Jacob Rees Mogg and David Davis, say Karlsson’s paper shows that the UK can leave the customs union and avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Theresa May has said Brexit negotiations are “in the endgame” and will chair a special meeting of her cabinet on Wednesday to discuss a draft deal.
Lady Hermon, MP for North Down, challenged Karlsson on his claim that a “smart border” would make it possible to have no physical infrastructure at the frontier.
She said: “You did say, in fact, ‘been there, studied it’. I do take it that was a reference to the border.
“You’ve been to Northern Ireland? You’ve been there?”
Karlsson replied “yes” and that he was last in the region in 2016.
“And do you mind telling the committee who you met while you were in Northern Ireland?,” Herman asked.
To which the Swedish author replied that he had “not been there in the capacity of looking at this specific issue”.
Asked if his visit was “15 minutes, an hour,” Karlsson replied: “No, I’ve visited more than 500 borders, some of them are long, some of them are shorter. I really don’t recollect how long I was there.”
He added: “As was also mentioned, I have not been to all the 200+ border crossings, so, again, that is really important to be stated.”
Herman went on: “So when you said to the committee that you had ‘been there and studied it’, you mean you have studied it remotely. You haven’t actually physically been along the entire border.”
“Not the entire border, no. Correct,” he replied.
Karlsson was also asked whether he had met any officers from PSNI.
Chief Constable George Hamilton had previously told the committee that he was concerned about drug smuggling and criminal gangs post-Brexit.
Karlsson said he had not, but that he believed the international policing of border crime had moved on to include more intelligence and surveillance.
He said: “Again, it is not only technology. It is also about how you work, cooperation, partnerships.
“How we today handle cross-border international crime is very different from where it was 10-15 years ago. So the national border used to be the first frontier, now it is the last frontier.”
Hermon also asked: “Has your technological solution been implemented anywhere in the world where there is a disputed border, as there is on the island of Ireland?”
To which Karlsson replied: “No.”
Karlsson’s Smart Border 2.0 report was written for a committee of the European Parliament.
It was based on an enhanced version of the Sweden-Norway border arrangements.
For such a border to work, Karlsson said there would need to be a comprehensive “trusted trader” scheme which covered small businesses.
Trusted trader schemes, also known as Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) status, allow companies to benefit from reduced physical checks.
They also impose an administrative burden meaning that usually only large companies participate in the schemes.
Karlsson, a former senior officer in Swedish customs, added that while the border would not be frictionless but said it could remove the need for a backstop customs arrangement.
He said: “It is important to show the models that could replace a more traditional way of doing inspections at the border. I think that is the only way to solve it.
“If that is done in different places or with different technology or with different techniques involving the export or import of the companies involved to do more of the self-assessment, all of that is already in the EU customs legislation.
“So, it is possible to do.”