The Brexit vote has boosted business in Northern Ireland from shoppers across the UK’s only EU land border, a leading retailer has said.
The number from the south visiting Newry in Co Down is up 50% since the June referendum as the pound slid in value against the euro, Buttercrane shopping centre manager Peter Murray added.
Other cities on the UK’s western fringe benefited from the currency fluctuation as bargain hunters from the Republic headed north.
The car park at Newry’s Buttercrane included vehicles with Dublin registrations and even further afield. Mr Murray said: “Their euro is going further because of the soft exchange rate against the pound.
“The devaluation of the pound makes their euro in their pockets go further and prices in Newry are the same.”
The value of the pound fell to levels not seen since 1985 immediately after the referendum result. Currently a pound equals 1.19 euro.
Mr Murray said the proportion of Irish car registrations using the Buttercrane had increased from about 11% or 12% pre-referendum to about 18% since - a 50% rise. However, importers from the eurozone are counting the cost.
Northern Ireland’s second oldest shoe shop is nestled in one of the bustling main streets of Newry.
Cahill Brothers is having a sale - but as an importer of footware from Spain, Italy, France and Portugal the strengthening of the euro means costs will go up.
Owner Declan McChesney said: “It is not possible to suddenly turn around and find a new location of expert manufacturers.
“Sixty per cent of the population of Ireland live within one hour of Newry so basically I am cutting my hinterland in half and for me to compete with towns across the border ... I must now look to my margins, to maintain my competitiveness I must reduce my margins.”
Newry is around five miles (8km) from the frontier. It is hilly and rural, isolated in parts, but a good road leads south towards neighbouring Dundalk and on to Dublin.
Old currency exchange signs are still in evidence, even though most transactions now are plastic. Former border posts lie abandoned, gathering rubbish from passing motorists rather than customs duties.
The only indication the driver has passed from north to south is when the road boundaries are marked in yellow rather than white and the signs turn from miles per hour to kilometres per hour.
Two decades ago, British Army watchtowers looked down on traffic, soldiers checked vehicles for weapons and commerce was disrupted.
The Irish and British governments, including Prime Minister Theresa May, have said there must not be a return to the borders of the past.
Mr McChesney said: “That is what we call in Newry a politician’s promise and, let’s be honest, that does not give us much room for hope.”
He recalled the border lined with trucks waiting to carry goods across.
“I cannot see how they are going to have free passage and free movement of goods if they don’t have a record of it and if you don’t have a record of it there will have to be a way of finding it and there will have to be some sort of checks, we suspect, which means a hard border.
“A hard border is desperately dangerous for the peace of Northern Ireland and desperately difficult if you are in business.”
Paddy Malone, a Dundalk accountant, said there were fewer northerners in town but not too many locals had gone north.
“I would like to think that sterling would track the euro and we could settle down to peaceful coexistence.
“I would prefer to think that we could actually live together without this disruption of trade because neither Newry nor Dundalk is benefiting from this boom and bust cycle.
“It does not help either of us to survive.”