The government has robustly refuted claims made by the Road Haulage Association’s CEO that the volume of exports going through British ports to the EU had fallen by 68% since Brexit.
The comments made over the weekend by Richard Burnett to the Observer were picked up and pushed by all mainstream media outlets, including Sky News.
The Observer reported on a letter sent by the RHA to Michael Gove on February 1 indicating there had been a 68% fall-off in exports to the EU in January compared to twelve months prior. In addition, Burnett also claimed about 65%-75% of hauliers were returning to the continent empty because there were no goods for them to return with.
“I find it deeply frustrating and annoying that ministers have chosen not to listen to the industry and experts,” he told the newspaper in a swipe at Michael Gove who he claims has not listened to multiple warnings from the association over the last six months.
Sky News published its story on the news with the rather damning headline: Exports to the EU have plummeted by 68% since Brexit without any qualification that this was merely a figure based on a survey conducted by the RHA of its members and not undisputed fact.
The Cabinet Office hit back on Sunday evening releasing its response to the disputed claims by the RHA. In relation to the apparent 68% drop in exports to the EU, Whitehall insisted it did “not recognise this figure” and revealed that “further details from the survey have not been shared.”
“Flows are monitored on a daily basis by the Border Operations Centre. In the last full week (30 Jan to 5 Feb) both outbound and inbound flows (across all UK ports) were close to normal, at 95% outbound and 96% inbound, in spite of the impact of COVID lockdowns on trade.
“For the same week, flows outbound specifically across the Short Straits were at 82%.
“The Port of Dover’s own data confirms that volumes are close to normal.”
The published response also took aim at the spurious claim by Richard Burnett that “65-75% of vehicles that had come over from the EU were going back empty”, citing French data which puts the figure at “closer to 50%” and insisting that empty lorries on the outbound leg from the UK to the continent “is an entirely normal part of freight flows” and “has always been the case”.
The government response continues to rebut another six controversial claims from Mr Burnett’s letter picked up by the left-wing newspaper, providing extensive commentary to some, with others bluntly discarded as “wrong”.