British exports to the EU ‘plummeted by 68 per cent in January’ as post-Brexit paperwork and coronavirus crisis wreaked havoc at UK ports

  • Trade deal between the UK and the EU came into force on January 1 of this year
  • New checks and paperwork have caused significant disruption, slowing exports
  • Road Haulage Association survey shows volume of exports fell 68% in January 

British exports to the European Union plummeted by 68 per cent in January as post-Brexit paperwork and the coronavirus crisis wreaked havoc at UK ports, according to a new survey of international hauliers. 

Research conducted by the Road Haulage Association found the volume of exports heading from British ports to the continent suffered a major dip last month when compared to the same period last year.

The findings have prompted the RHA to write to Michael Gove, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, to call for urgent action to reduce friction at the border. 

The RHA is demanding Mr Gove do more to rapidly increase the number of customs agents from 10,000 to 50,000 to help firms deal with new red tape.

It came as Attorney General Suella Braverman said Boris Johnson will not let the EU ‘push Northern Ireland around’ amid an ongoing row over post-Brexit border checks. 

British exports to the EU fell by 68 per cent in January according to a new survey by the Road Haulage Association. A lorry is pictured at the Port of Dover on January 4

The numbers will pile the pressure on Boris Johnson as ministers try to reduce friction at the border

Industry bosses complained throughout January that the new trading arrangements with Brussels, as well as the pandemic, were hitting exporters hard. 

Richard Burnett, the chief executive of the RHA, said the survey had also discovered 65 to 75 per cent of vehicles arriving from the EU were returning to the bloc empty due to a lack of goods, hold-ups in the UK and because British companies had halted exports to the continent.

Mr Burnett said he found it ‘deeply frustrating and annoying that ministers have chosen not to listen to the industry and experts’, who have consistently called for greater urgency and action from the Government.

He told The Observer that Mr Gove had not responded in writing ‘pretty much every time we have written over the last six months’.

He said: ‘He tends to get officials to start working on things. But the responses are a complete waste of time because they don’t listen to what the issues were that we raised in the first place.’

The Government has implemented a six-month grace period following Brexit, allowing the suspension of the full range of physical checks on imports until July.

Former Tory chancellor Lord Lamont warned last week that red tape linked to the Brexit deal had rendered most business between Britain and Northern Ireland unviable.

Two weeks earlier, the RHA said a 12-month grace period and urgent financial aid were needed to iron out problems with the post-Brexit Irish Sea trade border.

The UK Government insisted ‘goods are flowing effectively’ between Britain and Northern Ireland.

But Mr Burnett said on January 20: ‘This is a financial precipice haemorrhaging money. There needs to be financial intervention immediately.’

The Brexit divorce deal means Northern Ireland must follow EU rules on customs, with checks on arriving goods now being carried out at ports. 

But the arrangements have caused disruption and prompted unionist and loyalist anger because they feel the checks have undermined the Union. 

Suella Braverman, the Attorney General, said the Prime Minister will do ‘whatever it takes’ to improve the border situation in Northern Ireland

The Government has demanded the EU agree to urgent action to reduce friction at the border in Northern Ireland with the two sides in the process of trying to find solutions.

Ms Braverman said in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph that she believes Mr Johnson will do ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure the situation improves. 

‘Boris stood up to the EU last year and we got a good deal,’ she said. ‘I am really confident we are not going to let the EU push Northern Ireland around.

‘We will do whatever it takes to ensure we get a good settlement for the Union.’   

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