Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

U.K.'s Trade Deficit With European Union Widens to a Record

  • Opposing `Brexit' groups say data supports their arguments
  • Three-month exports to the EU at lowest level since 2009

Britain’s goods-trade gap with the European Union widened to a record, with exports in the last three months falling to the lowest in more than six years.

Data from the Office of National Statistics showed a deficit of 8.1 billion pounds ($11.7 billion) in January and 23 billion pounds over the past three months. Both figures are the highest since the data began in 1998. Exports to the 28-nation bloc in the quarter ended January declined to 32.7 billion pounds, the least since 2009.

Twitter: ONS on Twitter

With the U.K. holding a referendum on EU membership in three months, every aspect of the economies’ relationship is being fought over by campaigners. Those who want to leave -- a so-called “Brexit” -- say the U.K. should focus on new markets, while those in favor of remaining argue Britain can benefit from the EU’s clout in global trade.

The widening in the trade gap with the EU in January was largely due to an increase in imports. The bloc remains Britain’s biggest trading partner, accounting for almost 50 percent of exports.

Referendum campaigns responded to the report with claims that the data support their respective arguments. Will Straw, executive director of Britain Stronger in Europe, said the numbers “underline the importance of our relationship with Europe” and show that it’s “vital for British exporters and investment.”

“EU trade is shrinking,” said “Vote Leave” Chief Executive Matthew Elliott. “Yet we are held back from striking deals with emerging markets as we’ve given up control to Brussels.”

Total Trade

The U.K.’s total goods trade deficit was at 10.3 billion pounds in January, matching economists’ median estimate. There was a surplus on services, leaving the overall goods and services gap at 3.5 billion pounds.

In a separate report, the ONS said construction output fell 0.2 percent in January from December and was down 0.8 percent year on year. New housing fell in January, led by the biggest decline in public homebuilding in three years.

Construction in the fourth quarter was revised to a 0.3 percent gain rather than the previously estimated 0.4 percent drop. As it only accounts for 6 percent of the economy, the revision has no impact on GDP to one decimal place.

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