Customs expert who wrote report on border solution has not visited entire length

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The customs expert who wrote a report for the European Parliament on the solution to the border post-Brexit did not visit the Irish border at the time.

Former Swedish customs official Lars Karlsson presented a 46-page report to the European Parliament last year showing how technological solutions could maintain as open an Irish Border as possible and remove the need for a backstop.

Mr Karlsson appeared before the Northern Ireland Public Affairs Committee in Westminster on Tuesday, initially saying he had visited and “studied the border”.

After questioning by Lady Sylvia Hermon, Mr Karlsson admitted that he had only visited the Irish border once, two years ago, had not been along the entire border, and in a different capacity which was not related to the report.

Lady Hermon asked: “So when you said you’d been there and studied it, you’ve not been along the entire border?”

To which Mr Karlsson replied: “No.

“I have not been there in relation to this specific issue, no.”

During the almost two-hour-long meeting, Mr Karlsson suggested that based on a “high level of trust”, between the UK and Ireland, and a comprehensive registration system, it would be possible to have no gates, no checks at the border, no infrastructure and “no slowing down”.

He added that the level of trust between the UK and Ireland is already high because they were previously in a customs union.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has already rejected this suggestion, which was contained in Mr Karlsson’s report, that people and traders crossing the border would have to pre-register after Brexit, including the 30,000 people who cross the border daily for work.

Mr Karlsson also suggested that any customs formalities be conducted away from the border, and a level of “self-assessment” be conducted by businesses in their own premises or at a designated point en route.

“My opinion would be that these inspections could be done in other places other than by the border, there are many examples around the world where you can do these kind of inspections in other places, there are still costs involved but with maximum trust you could do them elsewhere,” he said.

He also suggested that there could be designated trading roads for commercial vehicles, which would avoid congestion at crossing points.

He admitted that no technological solution has ever been implemented in a country where there is a disputed border, which Ireland has.

It was also noted that no British or Irish ministers had been directly in touch with Mr Karlsson since his newest report proposals were rejected in March.

Pro-Brexit MPs and other Leave supporters have cited the report, Smart Border 2.0: Avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland for customs control and the free movement of persons, as offering a real solution to the backstop issue.

As the committee was taking place, Ireland’s state broadcaster RTE reported that an agreement had been reached by negotiators in Brussels on a text on the border.

The broadcaster said the deal involved one overall backstop in the form of a UK-wide customs arrangement, but with deeper provisions for Northern Ireland on customs and regulations.

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