According to analysis of HMRC data, the value of food exports to the EU fell by £2.4 billion in the first 15 months after Brexit.
However, aggregate exports, which have been hit by the double whammy of the Brexit red tape and the slump in hospitality demand due to the 2021 pandemic, rebounded in the first three months of this year, the figures show.
Data tracking exports since 1 January 2021, when the Brexit transition year ended, shows that UK food exports fell 19% to £10.4 billion in the 15 months to 31 March 2022.
This was down from £12.8bn in the previous 15 months, according to the assessment of detailed raw materials data by the Hazlewoods chartered accounting firm.
The decline was driven by a decline in exports of perishable goods, from British strawberries to cheese.
Fruit and vegetable exports took the biggest hit, falling 44% from £1.5 billion in the 15 months before Brexit to £847 million in the 15 months after.
Meat and fish exports fell 16% over the same period, from £3.5 billion to £2.9 billion, while dairy exports also fell 13% from £1.6 billion to £1.4 billion.
Stricter customs requirements and long delays at ports have prevented many British food producers from sending perishable goods to the EU. The increase in bureaucracy and costs can make it very difficult to make a profit from the export of fresh produce.
“For an industry where the UK can rightfully call itself a world leader, that’s a real shame,” said Rebecca Copping, associate partner at Hazlewoods.
The figures are in line with those of Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office.
According to Eurostat figures, total imports to the EU from the UK have fallen from €169 billion (£144 billion) in 2020 to €146 billion in 2021 – a decrease of 13.6%.
The UK’s decision to opt for a hard Brexit with its exit from the single market means that customs declarations and proof of compliance with the standards are now required for all goods entering the bloc.
The HMRC’s official commentary on the first three months of data indicates that exporters are adjusting their operations to the new barriers.
In the first three months of 2022, exports to the Republic of Ireland increased by 67%, while exports to France increased by 28.5% and to the Netherlands by 40%.
The increase in exports to the Netherlands and Ireland could be linked to the energy crisis and the war in Ukraine, with a 50% month-on-month increase in March in mineral fuel exports to those countries.
HMRC said in its monthly commentary: “The surge in mineral fuel exports over the past month was led by the Netherlands and Ireland, at £327 million (50%) and £23 million (62%), respectively.
“The March 2021 increase was also led by the Netherlands and Ireland, up £548 million (to more than double the value) and £435 million (to more than three times the value) respectively.”