Remember blockchain for Brexit? That wonderfully terrible idea that seems to get trotted out every couple of months or so, almost as if it were designed simply to bait us block-pained folk here at FT Alphaville?
The first person to make the idea famous, of course, was none other than Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip “Spreadsheet Phil” Hammond himself, who said the magical distributed spreadsheet was the “most obvious” solution to the tiny issue of the Irish Border.
This time, it’s the turn of the nation’s (least?) favourite provocateur Rod Liddle, whose new book on Brexit, The Great Betrayal, suggests blockchain could solve “almost all” the problems of the Irish Border. (H/T Ben Munster over at Decrypt Media for drawing our attention to this, via a Guardian review of the book, which calls Liddle’s blockchain-solutionism “childish”).
So we headed on over to Google Books for a quick preview. We counted eight instances of the word blockchain. Take a look at this excerpt from the book:
Borders today are not so much geographical as rooted in time. The movement of goods and people does not need to be physically checked at the point of entry: there are a multitude of ways around the problem. But the government seemed either uninterested in them or utterly ignorant of them. Blockchain technology, for example, is used to keep a record of transactions in various cryptocurrencies, but is increasingly deployed by big companies to keep track of goods travelling to and fro.
Ah yes that old “big companies are increasingly using blockchain” trope. But at least the good people of the island of Ireland now know that the border that divides them is these days not really geographical at all, but ratherrooted in time. Blockchain should help that.
What did the government know about blockchain?… Asked about the problem of border relations with Ireland, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, said: “There is a technology becoming available… I don’t claim to be an expert on it but the most obvious is blockchain.” The insouciance and the ineptitude amaze. Why aren’t you an expert on it, Phil? Is there nobody in your department who it an expert on blockchain?
Yeah Phil.Why didn’t you bother becoming an expert in cryptography and distributed database systems when you decided to become a politician? And why isn’t someone at the Treasury a crypto coder? The ineptitude of it all!
(To be fair, the former chairman of Phil’s party,
Michael Green Grant Shapps, was chairing an all-party-parliamentary committee on blockchain, but he stepped down after, Alphaville found out he had a secret pay deal with a… blockchain company.)
Then we get to the bit where Rod implies blockchain can solve “almost all” the problems surrounding the Irish backstop (parentheses his; emphasis ours):
Both Leo Varadkar and the EU negotiating team stuck fast to the notion that technology would not solve the Irish question, it could only be solved by the UK ceding ground and agreeing, in effect, to a customs union with the EU. This was, of course, a convenient line for them to hold as it places the pressure on the UK — and held it was until the spring of 2019, when Varadkar suddenly admitted that technology (basically blockchain) could solve almost all of the problems surrounding this “backstop” business, except for maybe the transportation of livestock. Brussels agreed — but the UK was still miles behind the curve.
Yeah, Leo. Why didn’t you just admit that this intensely sensitive political, social, cultural, religious, economic and historical issue could be solved with blockchain? Coz technology IS blockchain after all.
For anyone curious about the Irish border actually looks like, here’s a picture of a part of it, taken by our FT colleague Philip “Blockchain Phil” Stafford himself, on a recent visit:
See? Just stick a blockchain on the other side of that stone wall there. Job done.
Blockchain for Brexit: a wonderfully terrible idea – FT Alphaville
Chancellor’s blockchain idea is a desperate scrape of the Brexit barrel – FT Alphaville
Brexit: a cry from the Irish border – FT Video