UK needs digital borders to succeed in a post-EU world

For think tank Reform, a digital upgrade of the UK border will make it “an asset”

Posted 29 June 2017 by

Think tank Reform says we need a huge rethink about the way we manage our borders – and technology has to be at the heart of that rethink for it to stand any chance of working.

It’s just put out a lengthy study on the issue, The future of public services: digital borders, whose premise is that in today’s digital world, a border is a process, not a line on a map.

As a result, governments – including the UK’s – must operate them by the smart collection and usage of data, and, you guessed it, Brexit makes all that a lot more complicated: leaving the Customs Union will quadruple the number of customs checks required at the border to 390 million a year, for example.

Better information sharing and technology is required to meet traveller demands, says the group, which worked with consultancy Accenture to produce the study.

Receiving passenger information before people board planes, trains or boats leaving for the UK can help border forces more quickly process passengers, through facial-recognition e-gates, for example.

Better information can also stop suspect travellers entering the country, even before they leave countries to travel. In 2015, it points out, fewer than one third of people refused access to the UK were done so before they embarked.

Sharing data through new technology can improve the efficiency and security of trade entering the UK, adds the report, which says paper should be eliminated as much as possible and digital portals, with real-time information sharing through Internet of Things censors, could be better placed to provide details of travel routes and cargo status, allowing border forces to more accurately target suspect cargo.

Doing so could  cut some inspection times from six hours to 12 minutes as well as boost improve tax receipts: between 2013 and 2016, it claims, the UK underestimated the volume of Chinese textiles entering the country to such an extent two billion euros of possible tax was lost to the Exchequer.

The UK could also charge non-British visitors a small contribution to invest in the UK border, following the lead of many other countries. A £10 fee would be in line with the USA’s charge for international visitors, it proposes, a charge that could raise up to £450 million a year, equivalent to 80% of the UK Border Force’s 2016-17 budget.

“Upgrading the UK border will make it an asset,” concludes the study.

“Better data use facilitated by new technology will deliver a world-class border for a world-class economy.”

Reform is a London-based independent, non-party think tank whose mission is to set out a better way to deliver public services and economic prosperity.

Reform’s artificial intelligence watcher Eleonora Harwich will be a featured speaker at our upcoming Think AI for Public Sector conference – make sure you have your ticket sorted out in time to be sure of seeing her and other experts debate the impact of advanced technologies on the UK’s future.