As the Irish border question has remained one of the thorniest issues in the Brexit talks between the United Kingdom and the European Union, a cabinet minister in Prime Minister Theresa May’s government believes the solution lies in technology.
According to Phillip Hammond, UK’s finance minister, the best way to ensure trade across the Irish border remains frictionless after Britain leaves the EU lies in the use of blockchain technology.
“There is technology becoming available (…) I don’t claim to be an expert on it but the most obvious technology is blockchain,” Reuters reported Hammond as having answered after being asked what the government was proposing to do to ensure smooth trade after Brexit.
Island of Ireland
With the UK having voted to leave the EU more than two years ago in a referendum, there have been fears that the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, which is independent and an EU member, would become an external EU border and thus inhibiting movement and trade on the island. This has resulted in a delicate balancing act as the parties in the Brexit negotiations want to avoid a hard border while at the same time respecting the spirit of the referendum decision.
If the finance minister’s proposal indeed turns out to be the solution that resolves the Irish border problem, this would not be the UK government’s first time to embrace blockchain technology. In August, for instance, the Ministry of Justice announced plans of experimenting with storing digital evidence on a blockchain, as CCN reported. This was part of the reform plans by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and was aimed at creating an audit trail that is foolproof and which tracks custody while preventing tampering.
Record-Keeping and Food Safety
Another UK public body that is experimenting with blockchain technology is the official record-keeper of the UK government, the National Archives. Mid this year the National Archives revealed plans to use blockchain technology in the verification of archived documents. This was necessitated by the challenging nature of digital archiving whereby accuracy can be undermined when files are changed from one format to another. But with distributed ledger technology hashes of documents would be registered on a permissioned blockchain making it tamper-proof as only authorized parties would be allowed to make changes.
Besides the HMCTS and the National Archives, blockchain technology has also been trialed by the Food Standards Agency, the UK government’s food safety watchdog. In this particular case the technology was applied in meat inspection and involved tracking beef from a slaughterhouse though the food safety watchdog revealed plans to extend the pilot to other food products in the future.
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