Customs expert who wrote report on Irish border did not visit Irish border

Lars Karlsson, customs expert

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

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 today, initially saying he had visited and "studied the border".

But after questioning by Lady Sylvia Hermon, Mr Karlsson admitted:

- That he had only visited the Irish border once, two years ago,

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- That he had not been along the entire border, and

- That he was there in a different capacity not related to the report anyway.

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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 was already high because they were previously in a customs union.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has already rejected the suggestion, contained in Mr Karlsson's report, that people and traders crossing the border should 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.

Brexiteer 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.

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