Blockchain: the solution to the Irish border question?

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Blockchain: the solution to the Irish border question?

The Irish border has plagued British Governments for decades. Today it manifests itself as the movement of goods across the border after Brexit. How do we protect British farmers and ensure they reap the benefits of Brexit? Farming is an important industry for the United Kingdom. We must ensure we use new, innovative solutions to solve old problems, says Get Britain Out’s Joel Casement.

There are currently no customs checks on goods passing between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. This will change when Britain leaves the EU as there will be a requirement for customs checks between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.

The sensitive issue is how to avoid: firstly, a transition which does not affect local business; and, secondly, as few as possible physical customs points and customs officials, which could become targets for paramilitary groups which are determined to return Northern Ireland to the dark days of The Troubles, putting the Good Friday Agreement at risk.

The total trade is worth £2.693 billion, with trade evenly spaced between the two, and the majority of goods traded being in the agricultural sector, such as livestock.

Could blockchain be used to solve the movement of agricultural goods? It’s the world’s most trusted all-in-one block explorer and crypto transaction search engine, which is primarily used for high-end goods and cryptocurrencies.

The blockchain solution has been popular for some time. The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has himself said: “The most obvious technology is blockchain”. Andrew Bird, CEO of GS Marketplace, a leading tech firm, has said blockchain could be used to remove the need for customs checks on goods crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the European Union after Brexit. Is this the one-stop solution for the border problem?

Bird suggests the process of implementation could take years. However, a new pilot system is currently being trialled in Singapore and Rotterdam to which, Bird suggests: “If it’s good enough to use in Singapore and Rotterdam, it’s good enough for the Irish border.” However, this technology is used for high end or mass goods and no system has currently been developed which would accommodate the smaller, lower end goods and livestock which move across the Irish border.

Blockchain has cases of remarkable success, such as at Europe’s largest port, Rotterdam, as well as WalMart’s trial of blockchain in its supply chain for food safety. The technology acts as an ever-expanding ‘digital ledger’ of records, known as blocks, which are linked together. It is relatively easy to track a container which enters the port of Rotterdam. It becomes more difficult when the goods might be separated and divided up, or when there is livestock.

Whilst the pilot system seems very positive, it would not be enough on its own. In conjunction with other technological remedies, the border and the movement of complicated goods can be made simpler. An Australian start-up, Ultimo Digital Technologies, based in a former Australian Commonwealth Research Institute, specialises in animal monitoring and welfare via multi-tasking microchip, designed specifically for animal welfare in Sydney’s University of Technology. The chip is described as incorruptible and is one such solution. The technology would allow Britain to make its own standards of animal welfare, hold to the standards of the nations we are transporting to, and would make the entire process more efficient, more cost effective and more profitable for British farmers.

There is evidence suggesting farm produce could be left sitting at the border in a ‘No Deal’ scenario after Brexit. A blockchain border, in conjunction with other technologies, such as microchipping animals, would be the most likely solutions to the problems. We cannot have delayed goods at the border. This would almost certainly lead to waste and with Britons being unable to make the most out of Brexit, and immediately benefiting from our leaving of the European Union. We must ensure that the benefits of Brexit begin when we leave, not years and years after.

Blockchain isn’t the utopian all-encompassing solution which the Chancellor and others had envisioned. However, used in conjunction with other break-through technologies it does have the potential to provide a solution which would allow farmers to continue their trade with minimal interruption.

Leading economists constantly purport we are at the beginning of the fourth Industrial Revolution. This is a technological solution. Britain was the originator of the first Industrial Revolution. We should be the leaders of the Technological Revolution. A blockchain border on the island of Ireland, alongside specific support technologies, would be the most effective immediate solutions to the movement of goods issue avoiding a hard border. In the long term, it would allow the process to be cheaper and quicker than our competitors.

Exiting the EU and ensuring we pursue every avenue to maximise its benefits subsequent prosperity is key. The alternative is a border issue on the island of Ireland, where trade is inefficient, farmers livelihoods are affected and where the potential of Brexit is not delivered.

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    Joel Casement
    Joel Casement is a Research Executive at the cross-party, grassroots campaign Get Britain Out. Previously he graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science with a First Class Degree in History.
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