Sweden-Norway border no model for Ireland

Sweden-Norway border no model for Ireland

Brexiteers and others who wish to play down the difficulties British withdrawal from the EU is going to cause like to point to best practice on the Swedish-Norwegian border. Specifically, they point to the use of technology including CCTV with number-plate recognition to suggest that a friction-less border will be possible here. This requires huge amounts of wishful thinking combined with ignorance or suppression of easily checked facts. It is disappointing that some commentators seem to be taken in by this rosy scenario which is based on pure nonsense.

The Swedish-Norwegian border is 1630 km long and runs mostly through uninhabited mountain terrain. There are 10 approved border crossings and all of them have customs controls on at least one side of the border; 30 other crossings may be used private cars or by commercial vehicles which are pre-cleared. About 25,000 commuters cross the border every day; the two countries are part of the Nordic free travel area which predates the EU.

We have a 500 km border with at least 275 crossings and the number of commuters is conservatively estimated at 30,000 a day but some believe it reaches 45,000. That doesn’t count a vast fleet of delivery vans from breadmen to motor factors who cross every day.

Norway is not an EU member but it is in the single market and pays handsomely for the privilege. It is not in the customs union but it is in the European Economic Area which might be considered a super-free trade agreement. Broadly, it means that all those customs officers are just looking out for a few products, mostly in food and agriculture.

Most of the technology deployed on the border, including the CCTV on all 40 passable roads, is there to combat drug smuggling; in the first year of deployment 400 kg of narcotics were seized. So was a massive haul of contraband alcohol. The technology has little or nothing to do with tariff controls on HGVs, which is still done on the good old queue-and-form basis.

The UK has said it will leave both the EU single market and customs union, so none of its borders could possibly resemble the Swedish-Norwegian one. Poland-Ukraine might be a more realistic model.