The State of Britain

Pre-pandemic data shows increased exports help Scotland and Northern Ireland record trade surpluses; the SE remains the leading regional exporter but London the best performer

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HMRC has published the latest regional trade figures which show exports and imports for 2019. Given the time period this data reflects Brexit uncertainty rather than Covid 19 turmoil. 

In the year to December 2019, the overall value of UK trade in goods exports increased by 2.1% to £346bn compared with the same period in 2018. The overall value of imports increased by 0.3% to £483bn.

The largest regional exporter remained the SE of England with £46bn of goods exported with Northern Ireland the smallest at £9bn. The best performer in percentage terms was London which was up by 17.2% with Yorkshire & The Humber falling by 6.3%.

The leading regional importer of goods was the SE of England at £98bn with Northern Ireland the smallest at £8bn.

Scotland and Northern Ireland had trading surpluses in goods of c£10bn and c£1bn; the other UK ‘regions’ all had deficits.


This month the ONS published data on regional services imports for 2017. The largest component of services imported into the UK was £51bn of travel. This represented 28% of the £181bn of services the UK imported.

The leading regional importer of services was London at £60bn with Northern Ireland importing £1.6bn.

At a local level, the largest importer of non-travel services into the UK was Camden and City of London at £14.5bn, almost double the next largest importer which was Westminster at £7.9bn. Of the 167 local areas, the Western Isles of Scotland imported the least amount, £21m, with Anglesey next at £31m.

The data on services exports was released by the ONS last year which showed London exported the most services at £117bn which compared with Northern Ireland at £2.9bn.

UK stats

UK GDP grew by 0.1% in the three months to February 2020 but GDP declined by 0.1% in February itself. Over the quarter, services were up by 0.2% but construction fell by 0.2% and production was down by 0.6%.  Annual growth was 1.1%.

According to Eurostat, GDP fell by 3.8% in the euro area and by 3.5% in the EU27 during the first quarter of 2019. This meant that annually GDP fell by 3.3% in the euro area and by 2.7% in the EU27.

Key European economies have begun to feel the effects of the March shutdown, with the timing of the dire data varying. For example, over the quarter the data showed that pre-pandemic Germany was at a standstill but France contracted by 5.8% with Italy shrinking by 4.7%. Annually, pre-pandemic Germany grew by 0.4% but France fell 5.4% with a 4.8% decline recorded in Italy. France and Italy are already in recession due to their contractions in the previous quarter.

The UK labour market was largely unchanged, with the pre-pandemic level of employment increasing to a record high of 33m and the level of unemployment stable at 1.36m or 4%.

The euro area unemployment rate was 7.4% in March 2020, with the EU27 rate at 6.6%. The lowest unemployment rate in March 2020 was 2% in the Czech Republic and the highest was 16.3% in Greece.

UK inflation was 1.5% in March 2020 down from 1.7% in February. Key downward contributions came from motor fuels and clothing with the biggest risers being housing, water, electricity and gas.

Euro area annual inflation was 0.7% in March, down from 1.2% in February. European Union annual inflation was 1.2% in March 2020, down from 1.6% in February. A year earlier, the Euro area rate was 1.4%.

The UK public sector deficit in March was £3.1bn, £3.9bn more than in March 2019. Debt at the end of March 2020 was £1,804bn, which was 79.7% of GDP, a decrease of 1% on March 2019.