Biggest rise for UK exports in 13 years

Figures show the UK's reliance on the EU may not be as great as suggested
Figures show the UK's reliance on the EU may not be as great as suggested

Britain enjoyed the biggest surge in exports for more than 13 years in April after Brexit fears sparked sharp falls in the value of the pound.

Official figures showed exports jumped by 9.1% between March and April to hit £26.1 billion, the fastest month-on-month growth since January 2003.

This helped the UK’s overall trade gap narrow to £3.3bn in April, the smallest since September, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It comes after the pound has weakened ahead of this month’s EU referendum, making British goods more attractive to overseas buyers.

Sterling hit a three-week low against the US dollar on Monday, falling as much as 0.9% to $1.43, after polls showed the Brexit campaign gaining the lead, although it has since bounced back to $1.45 dollars after fresh surveys put the Remain camp ahead.

The ONS said exports by volume leapt higher in April, rising by 11.2%, the biggest increase since records began in 1998.

April’s deficit in goods alone shrunk to £10.5bn from £10.6bn in March.

The overall trade deficit narrowed from a downwardly revised £3.5bn in March, despite a £2bn rise in imports to £36.6bn, the ONS said.

Britain’s trade gap has been in sharp focus amid the EU referendum debate, with the Remain camp warning trade could suffer if the UK votes to leave.

But the latest figures show the UK’s reliance on the EU for trade may not be as great as suggested, with exports to non-EU countries accounting for more than half the total, reaching a new monthly record of £14bn.

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Insight, said: “The April trade data lift hopes that UK exporters will increasingly be helped by the overall marked weakening of the pound over the coming months.”

He added that the figures, together with recent robust sales on the high street, suggest UK growth may hold up better than feared in the second quarter.

He is forecasting growth to remain unchanged at 0.4%, having previously predicted a slowdown to 0.2%-0.3%.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the improved trade deficit was a “step in the right direction”, but stressed there was “more to do”.

It wants to get 100,000 more UK companies exporting by 2020 as part of a wider aim to export £1 trillion a year within the next four years.

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said the trade deficit remains “unacceptably large”.

“April’s figures also highlight the need for the Government to do more to support exporters, including improved access to finance for companies looking to break into new, fast-growing economies,” he said.