Surprised it was dismissed! Tech solution for Brexit border revisited by Irish start-up

Smart borders: Mike McGrath on importance of using technology

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The Irish businessman behind an innovative start-up has defended the idea that a technological fix can be found for reducing post-Brexit trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. During the referendum campaign in 2016 and after, attempts by the Leave side to propose a “smart border” solution to the problem of the Irish border were often dismissed as a fantasy. Six years on, Kwayga co-founder Mike McGrath argues the importance of using technology to solve the trade barriers should not have been dismissed so quickly. 

Mr McGrath told “Like a lot of the innovations that have happened over the last few years, you and I having a conversation here on Zoom, while it was possible four or five years ago to we would have been looking for face to face or a phone interview.

“There’s been a lot of change and improvement in technology and a lot of change and improvements in technology with regards to customs clearance as well.

“Simplifications can be had, some of the older systems are a bit archaic and frustrating, I think that’s maybe where the first investment should be made.

“Make it more easy, at the moment in Northern Ireland you have trader support services, ESS and that’s there because customs clearance isn’t easy and the systems behind it are not for the faint-hearted.”

“However, it could be simplified and SMEs could manage it themselves in future, and technology is one way forward to do that.”

He added: “So there has to be some practical approaches, I do believe as a strong believer in technologies, where you can introduce technology to reduce administration, save time, make decisions quicker for businesses, improve communications, and decision-making and communication for administration is what customs comes down to.

“So I was disappointed that technology wasn’t explored further.

“I think maybe the British Government might have to do what we call an innovation procurement on this in terms of maybe funding some resource into technologies or startups or businesses that are in the space, that can quickly scale up and provide solutions.

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“Because I do think that will that will reduce 80, 90 percent of headaches for most businesses and why wouldn’t they do it? Certainly, I would believe it is the way forward,” he added.

“It was surprising like you said that it was dismissed so quickly because in this area where it is we’re talking about administration and communication, technology is the way forward.”

Last week the UK Government tabled a Bill at Westminster that would empower ministers to override much of the contentious post-Brexit trading regime it agreed with the EU in the withdrawal talks.

This led former Irish taoiseach Bertie Ahern to warn there is a real danger that Ireland could become semi-detached from the EU single market if the UK Protocol Bill becomes law.

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Speaking to the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA), Mr Ahern said: “If this was to continue on down the slippery slope and the legislation is passed, the EU will say that they have to see the single market implemented and if there is no land border then it has to be in ports.

“I shudder to think – and we saw what the delays were in the harbours and other ports two years ago when there were limited checks. You can imagine the difficulty that would create for Irish traders.

“If it was to continue and this Bill was to be passed, if the EU said ‘we can’t get anywhere here, and there has to be checks’, which they will, they ultimately will because they have to protect the integrity of the single market.

“They have to continue with the line that there’s a sea wall around the single market, then there’s a real difficulty because if we want to stay in the single market, then you have to go with checks.I think that’s the last resort and it’s something we don’t want to see but I’m afraid after last week’s position it is a step or two nearer.”

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