Reassurances over the post Brexit nature of the border between the province and the Irish Republic have been welcomed by business groups .
However each has claimed that more detail is urgently needed as to how the government hopes to make good on its aim to maintain a ‘soft border’ at all costs.
Belfast born Director General at the Institute of Directors Stephen Martin said the document represented a significant step forward but threw up “even more questions about how much flexibility and imagination will be needed to overcome some very fundamental challenges”.
The paper, he said proposed having no border checks along the UK’s only land border with the EU, nor border checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
“The implication seems that in order to remove the bureaucracy of customs inspections businesses will instead be burdened with greater bureaucracy on in-work immigration checks.
“This would not be welcomed by SMEs who will see it as government giving with one hand and taking away with the other.”
In addition, while the commitment to maintain the Common Travel Area was a positive one, he said it only covers UK and Irish citizens, not EU migrants working on the island Ireland.
“This is a concern for business because 10% of IoD Northern Ireland members have EU staff who live on one side but work on the other side of the border.
Above all he said it was imperative that the UK and EU reach early agreement on regulatory alignment for a transitional period to address all of the other issues which would warrant new customs controls.
“The government crucially acknowledges the need for this on measures relating to agri-food – particularly importance to the all-island economy – but this will apply to many other sectors as well.
For the CBI, NI deputy chair Trevor Lockhart said it appeared the government was moving in the right direction but warned there was a ‘way to go’ before businesses were reassured that trade will continue smoothly after Brexit.
“It’s welcome that the UK Government has recognised in this paper that an interim period will be crucial to providing clarity for companies on the island of Ireland. This matters for jobs and investment for both European countries as well as the UK.
“Uncertainty weighs particularly heavy for firms and families in the region. Companies are making long-term investment decisions now and need to see much more detail on these proposals in the coming weeks.
“What’s needed now is a pragmatic approach on all sides – this is an issue of mutual interest,” he added.
“A significant step up in engagement between the UK Government, Irish Government, local policy makers and businesses is needed.”