Derry’s business community have voted overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the EU.
The ‘Journal’ can reveal that 81 per cent of Derry Chamber of Commerce representatives support continued membership of the European Union.
In a snap online poll of members last Friday, only 12per cent voted in favour of leaving the EU while 7 per cent said they remained undecided.
The referendum on the UK’s EU membership is on June 23, when voters will be asked to decide whether they want to stay in or leave.
Talk of ‘Brexit’ – the UK leaving the European Union - is, according to Chamber Chief Executive, Sinead McLaughin, a serious cause for concern and anxiety in Derry’s business community.
In particular, she warned of the possibility of border controls being reintroduced between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.
“Let us remember what happened when there were last border controls,” she said. “For this, we do not need to go back to the years before the Good Friday Agreement. Instead, we can recall 2007 – the year of the latest foot and mouth outbreak. The result was chaos for many people. Business was disrupted. Cross-border commuters arrived late for work and late home at night.
“Since then, social integration across the border has continued. Even more workers in Derry live in our city’s suburbs that are actually across the border – in Muff, Killea, Bridgend, for example. Imagine those commuters having to queue every day at customs controls on their journeys to work.”
For most businesses in Derry, says Ms. McLaughlin, the Republic of Ireland is their major export destination.
“For some, it is more important than their home market of Northern Ireland,” she added. “Many have well established cross-border business partnerships. Some of our largest companies have subsidiaries in Donegal or Dublin. They all worry about what ‘Brexit’ would mean for them.
“Despite the two jurisdictions and two currencies, the North-West of Ireland operates to a large extent as a single economy. Currencies are easily traded. Cross-border property ownership is common.
“For many consumers, where they shop – in the North or the Republic – is based on a calculation of today’s currency valuations.
“This is our life. How would this change if the UK left the EU? Well, we just don’t know. And uncertainty, as we all recognise, damages investment and business planning.”
She added: “Derry’s businesses trade on two sides of the border – as if the border does not exist. For most day-to-day purposes, the border actually does not exist. To recreate that border is unimaginable – yet is something we do now have to imagine. “
Meanwhile, the head of the Wetherspoons pub chain - who was raised in Derry in the 1960s - has declared his support for the ‘Brexit’ campaign.
Tim Martin, the group’s founder and chairman, believes British businesses would benefit from leaving the EU in the long-run through increased democratic accountability.
As the world’s fifth biggest economy, the UK would not suffer any economic damage, he said.
Mr. Martin added that he supported the principle of free movement of people and trade in Europe but insisted political decisions should not be made by an “unaccountable body.”