So it was just a blip after all. Remember those huge headlines last month revealing that exports to the EU had plunged by 41 per cent in January, leading frustrated remainers to bleat: we told you so? ‘Brexit – the unfolding disaster’ tweeted Lord Adonis for one, along with a graph showing the sharp fall in January.
Now we have the figures for February, which has been reported rather less loudly, but which show just as strong a rebound. Exports in goods to the EU in February, records Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, were 56 per cent up on those in January. They are still down 11.6 per cent on February 2020, but then that is largely a reflection of the effect of Covid on the economy – the entire UK economy is nearly 8 per cent smaller than it was before Covid.
Total exports, including services, rose by 46.6 per cent in February, following a fall of 42.0 per cent in January.
In order words, the blip in January was exactly what many said it was at the time: a case of inventories being unwound after heavy stockpiling in November and December. Businesses anticipated teething troubles and so wisely bought forward to purchase goods so that they wouldn’t be relying on spare parts etc being delivered in the first few days of 2021. It didn’t help that France and other EU countries briefly stopped all lorry traffic from the UK in response to fears over the Kent variant of Covid. At the turn of the year the haulage industry was still suffering the after-effects of the huge jams that built up just before Christmas.
Now that things have settled down we have a better picture of what Britain’s post-Brexit trading relationship with the EU will look like.