Max Fac; Max Fallacy

2 min read

​Conservative ‘hard’ Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith (IDS) is trotting around telling interviewers that there is an “easy” technical solution (in support of so-called Max Fac) to the customs issue after we leave the EU/Single Market/Customs Union – the Irish Republic/Northern Ireland border being the crunch issue.

There are 200+ crossing points along that 500 km border and more than 3.1 million passenger vehicles, more than 170,000 trucks and more than 250,000 light commercial vehicles cross it each month, while 23,000 people do so for work. Intra-company supply chains are highly dependent on cross-border movement, with processing occurring on either side of the currently invisible line.

IDS cites a European Union report that proposes a technological fix for the border issue ( That is true; it points to Sweden-Norway. But at Norway’s soft border with Sweden, Norwegian authorities confiscated 40% more beer and 100% more spirits between January and July 2017 than in the whole of 2016. And there are still queues at the Sweden-Norway border – the Swedish National Board of Trade report for 2017 surveyed 2,000 Swedish companies and found that customs was the main problem hindering trade with Norway. Not a fully-fit arrangement, then.

And the technology solution does not address ‘live exports’, writes Katie Daughen, head of Brexit Policy at the British Irish Chamber of Commerce (see, adding: “This is a key element of cross-border trade with ‘food and live animals’ accounting for a third of Northern Irish exports to the Republic in 2016.”

Even the established EU system is not serving the UK well. According to former customs officer Bill Austin (, since 2005 there have been no customs officers at Dover, Heathrow, Glasgow or Edinburgh and the UK uncollected ‘tax gap’ has increased to an estimated £120bn (rather dwarfing the claimed £5bn-a-year ‘Brexit bonus’ for the NHS). A new, untried system would be its equal or better?

Conservative Remainer Ken Clarke says: “There is no technology that allows an open border with different customs, certificates of origin and different regulations on either side of the border.” And he suggests that IDS’ experience with the introduction of Universal Credit, backed by new IT, should give him pause for thought (see Adding further weight, as we go to press, is EEF, which cites short-comings of the US/Canada border set-up, again highlighted by Max Fac proponents. (The EEF is joining the SMMT and the aerospace industry in opposing Max Fac, in fact.)

Topping it all off, the many examples of politically-driven IT initiatives that have failed to reach functional maturity (a sample here: mean that claims such as those being made by IDS about how easy it is for technology to solve this or that issue really do not hold water. Max Fac is Max Fallacy.

(After this article was published, the Road Haulage Association cited problems at the Port of Felixstowe, following the introduction of a new IT system that has caused long delays for lorries using the port.

Richard Burnett, RHA chief executive, sees a clear parallel with the importance of successful customs and border negotiations over Brexit: “What’s happened at Felixstowe is a stark warning to politicians about the dangers to the supply chain over delays at ports. The 16-hour delays we’ve seen here are a drop in the ocean compared to the chaos we face without free flowing borders after Brexit – devastating the supply chain and the British economy. It’s a wake-up call to the Government.”)

First published in Machinery, June 2018