Businesses in Northern Ireland have insisted there should be neither a new customs border in the Irish Sea, nor a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
The statement shows just how difficult it will be for Theresa May to break the deadlock in Brexit talks.
Kirsty McManus, Northern Ireland director of the Institute of Directors, urged all sides to ‘get creative’ while stressing the need to avoid setting up new borders around Ireland post-Brexit.
Trevor Lockhart, chief executive of the Fane Valley farmers’ co-operative, added that there was ‘growing frustration’ after crunch negotiations in Brussels on Monday ended without agreement on the terms of withdrawal.
May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker declared there had been no deal after the DUP refused to accept proposals which would have effectively created a border in the Irish Sea.
The PM now faces a race against time to persuade EU leaders ahead of the European Council summit of December 14 to 15 that ‘sufficient progress’ has been made on divorce issues, including the Irish border, citizens’ rights and a financial settlement, so Brexit negotiations can move to discussions on trade and a transition period.
Ms McManus told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think our members are clear – we don’t want to see a border north-south, nor do we want to see a border in the Irish Sea.’
She said the Good Friday AGreement needs to be ‘reinforced’, and that ‘regulatory co-operation’ with the Republic of Ireland must continue.
The DUP appeared to object to a form of words in a draft deal which would have ensured ‘regulatory alignment’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Ms McManus said: ‘There [are] very strong binding agreements for both UK and Ireland around the all-island economy which have been longstanding since 1998, and we already see significant cross-border co-ordination. So what we swould say is there are existing templates there for co-operation.
‘Northern Ireland is unique; we’re the only part of the UK that shares a land border with the European Union, and areas like the electricity market must be maintained post-Brexit. So therefore what we would say is that regulatory co-operation has to continue.’
Mr Lockhart said that something had clearly gone ‘horribly wrong’ on Monday, ‘and this morning we’re trying to pick up the pieces’.
He said staff, suppliers and customers are all frustrated that there is still a lack of clarity about future arrangements.
‘From an economic perspective, the reality for us as a business is that an economic border north-south is no more acceptable than it is east-west,’ he added.