Jacob Rees-Mogg has dismissed mounting evidence that Brexit has hit trade, arguing it has in fact been a “success”.
The Tory MP, who was appointed Brexit Opportunities Minister last week, said evidence that trade had been damaged by Britain’s exit from the EU was “few and far between”.
Yet the MP’s comments appear at odds with new figures released by the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday which show UK exports to EU countries shrunk by a record £20bn in just 20 months.
UK to EU exports fell 12 per cent between January and December of last year, compared to the previous year – with supply chain disruption, new trade barriers and additional red tape caused by Brexit cited as the main reasons.
Sales to the EU dropped more sharply in 2021 than exports to any other country in the world, according to the data. Non-EU exports were also down, but less, by 6 per cent – suggesting the rest of the world is not stepping in to fill the gap.
Mr Rees-Mogg told the BBC that it was in fact Covid which had caused “the most enormous disruptions to supply chains”.
“We’ve had containers simply being stuck the wrong place, being stuck in Chinese ports, being stuck in the port of Los Angeles.
“This has been a global trade issue – and we do have to recover from the problems of Covid.”
Asked specifically whether Brexit had hit UK trade, he replied: “I think Brexit has been extremely beneficial for the country.
“I think the evidence that Brexit has caused trade drops is few and far between.”
Other evidence is mounting that Brexit is to blame, however. A survey of 1,000 UK exporters conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce found that seven out of 10 businesses polled believe the UK’s trade deal with the EU was not enabling their business to grow.
And an analysis of government figures by the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex found last year that that losses from trade with the EU were expected to be 178 times bigger than expected gains from new free trade agreements.
Liberal Democrat business spokesperson Sarah Olney said: “Claims from the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg about Brexit opportunities ring hollow for businesses being drowned in paperwork and delays at our borders.”