Thursday, 3 October 2019

Leaving the door wide open

I know that I’m not the first to point out that the kerfuffle involving a backbench MP at the Tory conference could have been completely avoided if the security check had been carried out five miles away from the conference venue, or even at his house before he left, and he had been given a clever electronic device to track his movements all the way to the venue and into the room in question.  Under such a system (perhaps we could call it ‘alternative arrangements’) there would have been no need for a security check at the entrance to the room because the check would already have been done elsewhere, and the electronics would tell the security team exactly where he was at any given time.  And with no need for a security presence on the door, there could have been no confrontation and no fuss.
Unfortunately, it also neatly parallels some of the real problems for his proposal in relation to the EU-UK border on the island of Ireland.  Whilst the MP would have been checked and verified, what if his wife had simply gone directly to the room in question?  With no security clearance, she would have no clever device to monitor her, and with no security on the door, no infrastructure to detect her presence and no clever device, she would cross the boundary into the room ‘invisibly’ as far as the security team were concerned.  Without a physical control to ensure that only people who’d gone through the ‘clearance centre’ could reach the entrance to the room, the entrance would, effectively, be unsecured.  Now, one might ask, ‘does it matter if one stray extra individual gains access to the room?’  Maybe not – but if it doesn’t then the security check was irrelevant and unnecessary in the first place.  The point is that the security presence on the door wasn’t there to admire the documents held by the authorised and put a tick in a box somewhere; it was there to prevent access by the unauthorised.
A system which depends on goods and associated documents being presented at a clearance centre (or being checked at the factory) before proceeding but with no means of ensuring that everyone does so is a system which controls the movements only of the honest.  For the dishonest, it’s an open door.  And here’s the thing – the point of checking customs documentation and goods at the border isn’t to admire the beauty of correct documentation, it is to identify, deter and prevent the movement of goods which don’t have the correct documentation or on which the correct duties haven’t been paid.  If the PM had insisted his own party followed the ‘plans’ which he is putting forward, he might begin to understand why they’re not a viable approach for any territory which wants to control what does or does not enter its markets.

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