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Brexit Britain Could Learn From These Border Smugglers

  • Both countries aren’t in EU but have relatively open borders
  • Question of U.K.-Ireland border a thorny negotiation issue

Brexit negotiators trying to figure out what to do about the U.K.’s 310-mile (500-kilometer) land border with Ireland may want to cast their glance eastwards, to Switzerland and Norway. Both countries aren’t European Union members but maintain relatively free movement of goods and people with the 28-country bloc.

While checks along the U.K.-Ireland border have largely disappeared, the matter of it is proving one of the thorniest questions for talks.

The following charts show the situation on the ground and how Switzerland’s and Norway’s arrangements work:

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier maintains customs controls are part of the bloc’s border management. But there’s also the issue of commuters: An estimated 30,000 people a day now traverse the U.K.-Irish border, sometimes even unaware that they are moving across one of its 300 crossings.

Unlike Britain, Norway is a member of the Schengen area, which allows for passport-free travel among though it imposed border controls in 2015 to stem an influx in asylum seekers.

Although Norway is part of the European Economic Area, meaning it has access to the single market for goods and services, there are limits as to how much alcohol, cigarettes and food individuals can bring in. Given that prices are typically lower in neighboring Sweden, Norwegians regularly make day trips, for which duty-free purchases are limited to 3,000 kroner ($387).

Since Switzerland too is party to Schengen, there generally aren’t any passport checks when arriving from neighboring countries. There are, however, occasional snap inspections.

Because Switzerland isn’t part of the EEA and the EU’s Customs Union, people traveling to Switzerland may bring in a maximum of 300 Swiss francs ($315) worth of goods per day free of charge. There are additional restrictions on foodstuffs and other items, such as weapons.

Major border crossings are manned by guards on the lookout for contraband, and there are regular news reports of smuggling -- including of meat.

— With assistance by Peter Flanagan, and Dara Doyle

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