EU27’s sales to the UK continue to drop fast — now below 50% of all imports

Graham Charles Lear
4 min readMay 30, 2021

Brexit backlash? World’s sales to the UK exceed EU27’s for 1st time since records began.

Should the EU27 begin to be worried that its anti-British stance will impact EU27 jobs?

The latest trade bulletin from the UK’s Office for National Statistics covering Q1 (Jan-Mar 2021) contains some very interesting information. Within their commentary is the following.

“Quarter 1 2021 is the first quarter since records began in January 1997 that imports of goods from non-EU countries are higher than from EU countries.”

- Quarterly bulletin on UK trade, ONS, 12 May 2021

In what follows, I have analysed official trade data going back to January 2019, before Covid and before the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. Specifically, I looked at one key question.

Is Brexit Britain now buying less from the EU, compared to what it buys from the Rest of the World?

The answer is: YES

Two years of falling UK purchases from the EU27

In Q1 2019, 55.9% of all the imported goods we bought came from the EU27

In Q1 2020, 52.9% of all the imported goods we bought came from the EU27

In Q1 2021, 48.7% of all the imported goods we bought came from the EU27

[Source: Office for National Statistics, Trade Bulletin published May 2021, and previous bulletins.]

The simple fact is that the UK is buying less and less from the EU27, and more and more from the Rest of the World

The trend I have shown above is interesting — both in terms of the latest quarter’s figures but also when looking at the fall over the past two years.

Short-term. The last three months’ figures show that the EU27’s sales to the UK have fallen by a (statistically significant) 4% since the UK finally departed the EU on 31 December 2020. This might partly be explained by some stockpiling carried out by British importers in Q4 2020.

Longer-term: What is harder for the EU to explain is why this trend started before the inevitable ‘Brexit effect’. Comparing the first quarter of 2021 with the same quarter two years ago, I see a 7% fall in the proportion of EU27 goods being bought, compared to goods from the Rest of the World.

How much is this costing the EU27?

Putting aside percentages, I took a snapshot of the total value of the month’s sales to the UK in March 2021 by EU27 countries and non-EU countries (RoW), compared to the pre-Covid days of March 2019.

It is important to stress that this is only a snapshot of one month’s figures and might be wholly unrepresentative, which is why I showed the quarterly figures above. That said, it shows that the fall in sales to the UK by the EU27 cannot be explained simply by Covid.

EU27’s monthly sales to the UK fell by £7.4 billion, comparing March 2021 to March 2019
The rest of the World’s monthly sales increased by £0.4 billion, despite Covid

EU27’s sales to the UK in March 2019: £25.2 bn

EU27’s sales to the UK in March 2021: £17.8 bn (-29.4%)

RoW’s sales to the UK in March 2019: £18.9 bn

RoW’s sales to the UK in March 2021: £19.3 bn (+2.1%)

[Source: Office for National Statistics, Trade Bulletin published May 2021, and previous bulletins.]

Are the British starting to react to the hostile behaviour of the EU to its near-neighbour?

The above shows that the total value of imports of goods fell in March 2021 compared to two years earlier. The significant thing is that all the fall was down to buying less from the EU. The UK actually bought more in monetary terms from the Rest of the World, despite Covid.

For how long can the EU continue to raid its “Treasure Island”?

Over the past few years, I have reported that officials in some EU countries (particularly Germany) have referred to the United Kingdom as ‘Treasure Island’. The reason for this is simple. We buy so much from them. Far more than they buy from us, as I have reported in detail many times.

The interesting question now is the extent to which British consumers will react to the hostility of the EU machine to the UK since the EU Referendum and Brexit, by choosing to buy British or non-EU products, in preference to those from the EU27.

[ Sources: UK’s Office for National Statistics ]

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Graham Charles Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.