The business community in Northern Ireland has rejected the notion of 'custom clearance zones' at either side of the border, as proposed in a non-paper by the British Government.

"We don't want hard infrastructure on the border irrespective of how close it is to the actual physical border itself," said taxation specialist with Chartered Accountants Ireland, Leontia Doran. "Businesses have clearly rejected this in the past, as have the border communities as well."

On a practical level, even if the infrastructure does exist to deal with scenarios where there are customs posts at 10 kilometres on one side of the border and 10 kilometres on the other, certain businesses will not be able to afford that technology. "It could mean that there is an advantage for larger businesses over small businesses," Ms Doran said.

She said the practicalities of such a border need to be considered. "We have over 300 border crossings in Northern Ireland. If you think about a lorry that's going from Derry to Donegal, is it going to have to drive out of its way to go to a particular customs clearance post? That's just not practical. I would imagine they won't have a border clearance post for every single crossing point."

Ms Doran was speaking ahead of a Chartered Accountants Ireland customs courses in Derry today, designed to help businesses prepare for dealing with customs compliance regardless of the outcome of Brexit.

It does not matter what shape the final Brexit deal looks like, the representative body advises that businesses must plan for the fact that trading arrangements will change. The UK will be out of the single market and the customs union. The UK and Irish governments are both preparing for a no deal, as is the EU, so businesses need to act now.

One of the key pieces of advice that CAI is giving business people is to secure their Economic Operator Registration Identification number which allows businesses to trade with the UK post Brexit.

Businesses in the Republic have to apply to Revenue for the customs number, while businesses in Northern Ireland and the UK are being assigned numbers.

"In some respects you could argue that businesses in Northern Ireland are at an advantage, but it is a very straight forward process for Irish businesses to apply for the number, and I understand as well that some may actually have their EORI number and don't realise that they have it in place already," according to Ms Doran. "They can apply online and get that number in minutes, whereas in the UK if a business hasn't been allocated that number - and that would mainly be non-VAT registered businesses - it can take up to five days. So the UK process is much slower than the Irish process so I guess that disadvantage falls away in some respect."

She said the level of preparedness across the country, north and south, is very similar. "We had a great mix yesterday at our course in Belfast, that kicked off the series of customs courses and we had people from both sides of the border in attendance. The course obviously is to deal with that gap in customs knowledge that is out there. Businesses haven't had to deal with customs knowledge for over 40 years in Ireland or in the UK, unless they trade outside the EU, and this course, which is being run in conjunction with the Irish Exporters Association, is being designed to get businesses thinking about that gap and start building their knowledge in customs areas."