Fear of Brexit disruption as figures reveal East Lancashire businesses exported whopping £766m. to EU

Businesses in East Lancashire exported hundreds of millions of pounds' worth of goods to the EU last year, new figures reveal.

Public spending watchdog the National Audit Office warns “widespread disruption” to UK trade with the EU is likely when the country exits the single market at the end of December.

HM Revenue and Customs figures show 819 businesses registered in the East Lancashire area exported goods to countries in the European Union in 2019.

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This outward trade was valued at £839m. – 52% of the total value of exports included in the data.

East Lancashire businesses are a big exporter to the EU

In the East Lancashire area, businesses exported goods to non-EU countries at a value of £766m. in 2019, while imports from outside the bloc were valued at £803m.

The figures also show 1,038 businesses imported goods from the bloc at a value of £741m. last year – 48% of the value of all inbound trade.

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The figures only include trade in goods, and not services.

Across the UK, companies exported £168 billion worth of goods to the EU last year, while imports amounted to £267 billion.

A recent report by the National Audit Office said there was “significant uncertainty” about whether preparations will be complete in time for the UK's departure from the single market.

It added the Government could have avoided some of the problems if it had been swifter to tackle issues such as the number of customs agents to help traders.

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Head of the NAO Gareth Davies said: “The January 1st deadline is unlike any previous EU exit deadline – significant changes at the border will take place and government must be ready.

“Disruption is likely and government will need to respond quickly to minimise the impact, a situation made all the more challenging by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Talks between the UK and EU continue this week as negotiators try to finalise a trade deal before the end of the year.

If they fail to do so, World Trade Organisation rules would kick in, which could increase the cost of imports and exports.

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The talks continue as the House of Lords voted to remove controversial parts of the UK Internal Market Bill, which would allow the Government to break international laws and override parts of its Withdrawal Agreement with the EU.

It would mean ministers could determine state aid rules in Northern Ireland and checks on goods moving between the nation and the rest of the UK.

US President-Elect Joe Biden is among those who say the proposed law could lead to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and has warned a US-UK trade deal is “contingent” on preventing this.

A government spokesman said: “We are making significant preparations to prepare for the guaranteed changes at the end of the transition period – including investing £705m. to ensure the right border infrastructure, staffing and technology is in place, providing £84m. in grants to boost the customs intermediaries sector, and implementing border controls in stages so traders have sufficient time to prepare.

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“With less than two months to go, it’s vital that businesses and citizens prepare too. That’s why we’re intensifying our engagement with businesses and running a major public information campaign so they know exactly what they need to do to grasp the new opportunities available as the transition period ends.”

He added that the Government was working hard to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol – the part of the Withdrawal Agreement designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.