A NETWORK has been launched to strengthen trading ties between British and Irish businesses as they confront the challenges of Brexit.

The British Irish Chamber of Commerce (BICC) has created the British Irish Gateway for Trade (BIG) to bring together companies on either side of the Irish Sea.

John McGrane, the BICC’s director general, pictured, said 2017 will “focus the mind” on the importance of the trade relationship between Britain and Ireland, which supports more than 400,000 jobs.

He said: “At a time when businesses are preparing for Brexit, they appreciate a resource like BIG, which helps them grow their business by being introduced to more customers and suppliers across the UK and Ireland.

“Firms on both sides of the Irish Sea are looking for more trading opportunities and this new service supports the work of chambers and state agencies to make connections easier to find for businesses north, south, east and west.”

The move comes as the Central Bank of Ireland (CBI) begins laying the groundwork to accommodate a significant number of London-based financial services firms looking to move their operations to Dublin in the wake of Brexit.

Gerry Cross, the CBI’s director of policy and risk, said the bank is poised to help businesses “think constructively” about relocation and would take a practical approach as firms look to get their business models approved and their company authorised.

London’s financial firms are waiting with bated breath to discover whether the UK can hold on to passporting rights, which allow them to trade freely across Europe, once Britain exits the EU.

The cost of a so-called “hard Brexit” to revenues in Britain’s financial services sector has been estimated to be as high as £38 billion, with up to 75,000 jobs in the firing line.

This is on top of a £10bn hit to the Treasury’s tax revenue, according to a study commissioned by TheCityUK.

The UK is Ireland’s largest two-way trading partner, supplying 34 per of Ireland’s imports and taking 16 per cent of Ireland’s exports. Ireland is the UK’s fifth-largest export market.

In a recent survey of UK and Irish businesses by the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, 88 per cent of respondents said Brexit will affect them, with the majority saying it will do so for the worse.