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Border areas 'need Brexit assurances'

By Margaret Canning

The Economy Minister has been urged to meet Chambers of Commerce in border areas of the province to discuss the impact of Brexit on their trade with the Republic.

Businesses are fearing the return of customs posts and a 'hard' border if their area becomes a land frontier between the EU and UK.

Glyn Roberts, head of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), said it was hearing from concerned members in areas such as Strabane, Newry and Londonderry as to whether the free flow of trade with the Republic will now be disrupted.

Mr Roberts urged Simon Hamilton to meet Chambers of Commerce in border areas to discuss cross-border trade - which is worth over £3.5bn per year to Northern Ireland companies.

"Our Economy Minister needs to have immediate discussions with the Chambers of Commerce in the border areas to try and address the very real fears of their business community and cross border trade," he said. Mr Hamilton said he was working with other ministers "to represent and protect the best interests of everyone in Northern Ireland following the outcome of the referendum".

Retailer The Rug House, which is based in Newry and sells rugs online and through a store, said there was "no silver lining" for its business to the prospect of Brexit.

"All businesses in Newry just seem to be shellshocked. The dust will take years to settle and it's a big struggle.

"We ourselves are a net importer as we import more than we export, so this is very bad for us.

"We were hoping to move into the EU to make it our biggest market but all of that is now in jeopardy."

The company employs 30 people, including two people from Lithuania and one in Greece.

"Their tabloids back at home are now saying they'll all be sent back, but I really don't believe that will be the case," said one.

Cross-border body InterTradeIreland said that it was ready to give advice to concerned businesses. "In the short term businesses will still trade under the same rules and regulations, but these arrangements will eventually change," it said.

"Again, in the short term, the fall in the value of sterling against the euro and dollar is likely to provide a boost to exporters from Northern Ireland, though it also creates a risk for those reliant on imported inputs." 

Shops in the region are hoping that the weak pound brings back shoppers from the Republic.

But Paul McKenna, the head of construction firm mac-interiors, which is based in Newry, said he had voted to Leave and that the situation could present opportunities for the province.

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