UK exports slashed under forces
Brexit, pandemic see record drop-off of trade with EU
Published: Feb 08, 2021 04:28 PM

Nigel Farage, leader of UK Brexit Party Photo: AFP

Brexit and coronavirus have slashed the volume of surface freight leaving Britain for the European Union (EU) by 68 percent from January 2020, according to figures published in The Observer on Sunday.

The stark drop in goods carried on ferries and through the Channel tunnel was registered by lobby group the Road Haulage Association (RHA) after a survey of its international members, said the weekly.

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett has sent a letter to minister Michael Gove warning that the new checks required since Britain fully left the EU's single market on January 1 were deterring exporters from shipping to the continent.

He said the government had only hired around 20 percent of the extra border staff needed to process the extra paperwork.

"Michael Gove is the master of extracting information from you and giving nothing back," Burnett told the newspaper.

"Pretty much every time we have written over the last six months he has not responded in writing."

The UK sent around £294 billion ($403 billion) of goods to the EU in 2019, accounting for around 43 percent of its total exports, according to official figures.

The situation threatens to get worse in July, when the UK implements its full range of physical border checks.

Trade experts told the paper that the sharp fall in exports was the "coincidence of Brexit and the pandemic." 

The UK and Europe have imposed tight travel restrictions during the latest wave of the pandemic, with France temporarily imposing a total ban on vehicles entering from Britain shortly before Christmas.

Truckers heading over the Channel to France now require a negative COVID-19 test before making the crossing.

A government spokesperson told The Observer that "we do not recognize the figure provided on exports."

"Thanks to the hard work of haulers and traders to prepare for change, disruption at the border has so far been minimal and freight movements are now close to normal levels, despite the COVID-19 pandemic." 

The head of British bank Barclays previously said that London's post-Brexit financial services industry must compete more with New York and Singapore rather than with leading EU centers.

"I think what London needs to be focused on is not Frankfurt or Paris; [it] needs to be focused on New York and Singapore," Barclays chief executive Jes Staley told the BBC.

The UK's powerhouse financial sector, which represents around 7 percent of the nation's economy, should emerge stronger from Brexit, according to Staley.

"Brexit gives the UK the opportunity to define its own agenda," he said, adding that he does not feel there was any need for deregulation to achieve this end.

The UK's departure from the EU was finalized on January 1.