Brexit, Customs and the Northern Ireland Protocol: from Ambiguity and uncertainty to Technology Base

As the BREXIT juggernaut hurtles towards the end of the transition period and the UK’s exit from the European single market (scheduled for 31st December 2020) looms, Boris steadfastly clutching the wheel with a steely determination that there will be no extension to negotiations, few would truly have dared imagine the lack of legislative clarity that would be available.


What will businesses have to do, support and comply with in order to continue trading from the strike of midnight?


As the world looks forward to celebrating the dawn of a new year, the stark realities of a global pandemic that has severely impacted international trade combined with the realisation of the need for intelligence and awareness of responsible sourcing, manufacturing and regulated trade in order to save a wounded planet, settle in like an unwelcome hangover.

Will UK trade at that moment freeze in the headlights; cough, splutter, stumble and turn into the proverbial pumpkin; or will the UK seize the initiative? Will the UK use the innovation and ingenuity that its history is steeped in to get the job done and celebrate the end of the transition with dignity and in harmony with the EU?

There is a complex problem to solve: an adjusted customs procedure for Northern Ireland must be agreed. This procedure will need to align to and support EU product and trade regulations whilst enabling the UK to uphold sovereignty over its customs territory and minimise trade interference as it embarks on new, independent world trade deals. As though in a nod to its maritime history, the UK-EU customs procedures will need to be managed on a border somewhere in the Irish sea.


Nevertheless, through ambiguity and uncertainty comes clarity. That control of the border issue is key for a UK economy much in need of defibrillation may not come as a shock. Many realise that technology is the key enabler for GB and EU trade facilitation.


We are probably all familiar with the innovative, contentious technologies that are being developed to try and solve this problem. Fingers are crossed that these are delivered on time and are free from the usual operational risks that come with big monolithic public sector architectures. The stakes are high and appetite for economic and political risk and uncertainty are low.

What may come as a surprise in the midst of the border issues and customs territory negotiations is that the technology and clear solution to the problem we are looking for is already at hand.

Stable, operational platforms that support the GB-EU requirements and even dare to encourage intelligent trade are currently being used by major retailers like Marks and Spencer (M&S) on a daily basis. Indeed, M&S is a good example of a major retailer who has been busy preparing its BREXIT-ready operations for the last few years, working with its technology partner Physical2Digital (or P2D as they are better known).


As Lord Agnew stated in a recent Treasury Select Committee hearing, P2D have the technology to solve these problems:


  • The ability to produce a schedule for Sanitary and Phyto Sanitary products that enables a DEFRA-appointed Official Vet to certify and declare a product fit for movement through the border has been tested, is operationally available and is being used today.

  • The ability to scan and load goods into vehicles with full visibility of load, attach customs declarations to the load both physically and digitally, and pre-notify border and customs authorities at point of load is available now on the same platform.

  • The ability to visualise a secure end-to-end movement and prove the final destination of goods,

  • solving the problem of ensuring goods are not at risk of filtering into the Republic of Ireland and the EU from NI, is available and being used now.

  • The ability to serve relevant information to DAERA (who are responsible for inspections of food and agricultural goods imported into the island of Ireland) and support the EU TRACES programme as well as provide a full visualisation of all product heading to the border is available now.

  • The ability to monitor the operational processes and the safety and security of sites that store, prepare and ship products for export in real-time; prepare compliance and risk reporting for issue to border controls and government departments; and provide real-time intelligence on the handling, loading and sealing of goods and cargo against standards such as the EU Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) standards is currently available and in operation in the UK.

It may be a surprise to learn that the technology required to audit and assure critical trade processes and operations, serve declarations required by both GB and EU authorities, and support intelligent decision-making is already available and in use today.

P2D have developed and provide this technology and, more importantly, have been demonstrating it to the UK government for a number of years. The capability supports trade through borders and Freeports alike, enabling businesses to optimise their sourcing strategies, warehousing and logistics services.

P2D have developed what they call the ‘Trusted Trader Programme’ and offer its capabilities across the Food, Pharma and Supply Chain and Logistics industries. These services provide AI analytical capabilities that include digital twinning and carbon and sustainability reporting.

Furthermore, P2D’s technologies integrate with other technologies, for example, strategic capabilities such as facial recognition and biometric scanning provided by companies like World Reach (who clear the movement of people through borders around the globe, including for the UK Home Office). P2D are also partnering with Gatekeeper who provide fixed and mobile border control infrastructures such as intelligent scanning, imaging and CCTV capabilities.


So, through the ambiguity of what the transition period holds comes clarity.


Through the application of technology services and cloud-based data capabilities offered by innovative companies like P2D, sound British institutions such as M&S are able to support trade and provision of services into their NI, ROI and EU stores that they have selflessly served for generations.

Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, future borders technologies that offer the promise of frictionless trade are already available and in use today.


In conclusion, there is now an opportunity for UK industry, who as responsible traders have invested in developing post-exit trade models and operations that utilise holistic, innovative enterprise technology services, to share their newfound capabilities with each other. These technologies could very well support the British government in finalising its EU negotiations and help arrest the BREXIT juggernaut once and for all.


By Douglas M Browning | Border Management Today | Issue 5 www.ibmata.org

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