Business and other sectors need to amplify their concerns over Brexit to help safeguard the thousands of workers, students and businesses crossing the border every day, local people have been warned.
Local business and political leaders have said that the imposition of any border and trade controls could see businesses saddled with hefty bills for transporting goods even from Derry to Bridgend while also restricting the free movement of workers.
They were speaking at a Brexit Business Breakfast event on Friday organised by Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson.
Stephen Kelly, Chief Executive of Manufacturing Northern Ireland, branded a recent suggestion from British Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill - and since rejected by the government- that the UK could levy employers £1,000 a year to access an employee from the EU post-Brexit as “horrendous”.
“Now Number 10 has slapped that down, but you can be sure if they’re talking about it. They must be thinking about it,” Mr Kelly said.
“What that says to me is there must be no real understanding of the practicalities of living or being communicating transporting yourself around the border that exists.
“I just despair that’s the sort of attitude we are beginning to see emerge.”
Mr Kelly said that hundreds of businesses across the north and thousands across Britain have registered subsidiaries in the south of Ireland ahead of the Brexit to retain access to the European market.
He added that one in four families locally were dependent on a manufacturing wage, while in Derry City, there were 5,400 people employed in manufacturing, supporting another 7,200 jobs.
“So there’s roughly about 13,000 people in this city dependent on manufacturing,” he said.
“We have got to make sure we have an environment that allows those people to succeed, to grown and employ more people. That won’t come if we get the wrong deal on Brexit.”
Mr Kelly said the right deal included ensuring there was no border.
“That is not a hard border, not a soft border, that is not an electronic border. “It has to be no border,” he said.
“Borders bring costs; border bring opportunities for smuggling; borders bring problems in terms of trade.
“We already know what globally the response to smuggling is, it tends to be a security response. That again adds more costs, time delays, etc etc. So if we are to find a way we need to ensure that way includes no border.”
Mr Kelly said that one of the big risks was that the UK government could leave not just the single market but the Customs Union. He said: “What that will mean is that manufacturers will have to invest in additional administrative cost in producing what is called Country of Origin Certification.”
He said Manufacturing NI had one of its members do a rough guide as to what that will mean and for him and that it translated to around £500 for every load that moves from his premises.
“That represents about 3% additional cost in terms of what’s in the shipment. It’s about half the cost of transporting goods from here to the UK. So if you are adding in additional half cost just to travel from here to Bridgend you can begin to see the dangers and the real damage that could be done to our manufacturing economy.
“So this is more than just the free movement of people, it needs to be about the free movement of goods. And as was settled here in the Good Friday Agreement people here have the opportunity have the opportunity to have an identity that is British, which is Irish or indeed an identity which is both and from a manufacturing perspective we see that as potentially the model that will allow all these problems to be overcome.”
Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson meanwhile said that Brexit could hit cross-border workers and all Irish passport holders if it was allowed to go unchallenged.
She said: “There’s 23,000 people cross the border every day to work and to study. There’s 5,200 students.
“This Brexit is bad for all of us but we can’t be just observers to what is coming down the track. We need to have a voice; we need to speak out and I appreciate what has been done by some sectors but it is not enough.
“I just want to encourage us to do more because of the damage it is going to do to those 23,000 people who cross the border every day; to all of us in terms of Irish passport holders, which affords us the opportunity to be EU citizens. What’s Europe going to do with that? ”
Ms. Anderson also said that Brexit had brought Irish unity to the forefront of the debate, and sparked research which showed a united Ireland in the future would leave people better off.