A hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will damage the construction sector, according to new research.
The Federation of Master Builders, a trade body representing UK construction firms, said almost half of Northern Ireland’s small and medium sized construction firms buy building materials from the Republic and almost a third of firms employ people based across the border.
It said the impact of Brexit had already been felt with one in three Northern Irish builders having already had their margins squeezed since the dramatic fall in the value of the pound that followed the 2016 EU referendum result.
Almost a quarter of small building firms said the pound’s fall in value has threatened the financial well-being of their business.
“What we’re calling for today is a return to the pre-1973 arrangement that saw the free movement of people between the UK and Ireland”, said the FMB’s chief executive Brian Berry.
“Your typical NI construction firm transports materials, products and labour from the Republic into Northern Ireland on a regular basis and anything that interferes with their ability to do that quickly and easy must be dealt with sensitively”.
According to the FMB, more than 200 roads cross the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, with up to 35,000 people crossing every day.
Northern Ireland’s construction sector employs around 65,000 workers, generating £2.4bn for the UK economy.
The European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said in September that Britain’s proposal for a “technological” border was unworkable and has suggested Northern Ireland could remain in the single market and customs union after Brexit to avoid a hard border.
Mr Verhofstadt said the EU and the UK would have to ensure there was “no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic”.