Trade between United Kingdom and European Union was hammered in the first month of their new post-Brexit relationship, with record falls in British exports and imports of goods disrupted by COVID-19 restrictions emplaced on both sides.
The Office for National Statistics said that the British goods exports to the EU, excluding non-monetary gold and other precious metals, slumped by 40.7% in January compared to December and that imports fell by 28.8% – another record.
Through a report released on Friday, the ONS said the COVID-19 pandemic, which left Britain under lockdown measures in January, made it hard to quantify the Brexit impact from new customs arrangements, and there were changes in the way data was collected too, adding that there were still signs of a Brexit hit.
The office said that trade in chemicals was especially weak, reflecting the winding-down of a rush to stockpile pharmaceuticals ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period.
The ONS highlighted a 64% fall in exports of food and live animals to the EU – including shellfish and fish. It pointed to delays caused by red tape reported by the Scottish Seafood Association, with consignment sign-offs reportedly taking six times longer.
“External evidence suggests some of the slower trade for goods in early January 2021 could be attributable to disruption caused by the end of the transition period,” the ONS said.
Many companies stockpiled goods in late 2020 to avoid any disruption, deepening the fall in trade in January. The ONS said its separate business survey suggested that trade picked up towards the end of the month.
Britain on Thursday delayed the introduction of a range of post-Brexit import checks on goods from the EU by around six months, saying businesses needed more time to prepare because of the impact of the pandemic.