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FactCheck: Is 90% of Ireland's trade with the UK, as a former British trade minister claimed?

Digby Jones made the claim on Twitter at the weekend when discussing the impact of a no deal Brexit.

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THE FUTURE OF IRELAND’S trade with the UK is uncertain as the impending Brexit deadline of 31 October grows ever closer and the possibility of no deal remains.

Businessman and former British minister of state for trade Digby Jones said in a tweet on Sunday that 90% of Ireland’s trade is with the UK.

Jones was the director general for business organisation the Confederation of British Industry from 2000 to 2006, a British junior minister of state from 2007 to 2008 and is currently a non-party crossbench peer in the UK House of Lords.

He said in the tweet that a no deal Brexit would “seriously damage Ireland” because of its reliance on UK trade. 

But is this statement correct?

THE CLAIM

Jones said that 90% of Ireland’s trade is with the UK. As he said the UK and not Great Britain, we can assume he was referring to the Republic of Ireland.  

“A No-deal Brexit will seriously damage Ireland; 90% of its trade is with the UK. It will cause mayhem in Northern France. Unemployment will reign in German car making cities.

“And it will be the unaccountable, unelected Eurocrats to blame. The EU is terrified of rightly being blamed for this mess; I wonder why!! You didn’t expect this, did you Barnier?” Jones said across two tweets. 

THE EVIDENCE

Let’s define the terms we’re discussing before going much further. Trade refers to the selling and buying of goods and services between countries. These are usually referred to as exports and imports. 

For the context of this article, exports are goods or services produced in Ireland and sold to another country.

Imports are goods or services brought into Ireland from another country.

Trade looks at four different areas: export of goods, export of services, import of goods and import of services.

Figures are released monthly from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) for trade of goods and annually for trade of services.

The most recent total yearly figures for both goods and services are from 2017 on the CSO website. 

Ireland imported the highest percentage of its goods from the UK in 2017. Ireland exported the most goods to the United States that same year, followed by the UK. 

Exports of goods and services

The most recent monthly figures on Ireland’s trade of goods from the CSO are from May 2019. Ireland exported €13.2 billion worth of goods and imported €6.7 billion of goods that month. 

Ireland exported €1.25 billion of goods to Great Britain - i.e. England, Scotland and Wales – in May 2019.

This accounted for almost 10% of total goods exported from the Republic of Ireland that month. 

Goods sold to Northern Ireland from the Republic were worth €169 million in May 2019, just over 1% of Ireland’s total exports that month.

This means the total amount of goods sold from Ireland to the UK in May 2019 was about 11% of total exports from Ireland that month. 

This is a slight drop on 2017 annual figures, when goods sold to the UK accounted for 12% of total exports from Ireland. 

Ireland exported more services to the UK than any other country in 2017, accounting for over €26 billion.

This means that services exported to the UK represented roughly 6% of total services sent from the Republic in 2017.

Imports of goods and services

Ireland bought €1.5 billion worth of goods from Great Britain in May 2019. This represents 22% of Ireland’s total imports of goods for that month. 

Including the amount of imports (€123 million) from Northern Ireland in that month, the total figure for the UK accounts for around 23% of Ireland’s total goods imports

This is 1% lower than the total imports from the UK shown in 2017 CSO statistics

Imports of services from the UK to Ireland accounted for €16.5 billion in 2017. This is around 9.3% of total imports to Ireland for that year in services.

THE VERDICT

Based on the fact that none of the most recent yearly or monthly statistics for trade between Ireland and the UK are anywhere close to 90%, the claim made by Digby Jones on 28 July can be discounted. 

The personal assistant of Digby Jones was contacted by TheJournal.ie for comment on his claim on 30 July, but did not respond in time for publication.

As trade refers to the exchange of goods and services between countries, it cannot be said that either of these account for 90% of Ireland’s trade with the UK in either goods or services. 

The UK accounted for 12% of total exports of goods in Ireland in 2017 and 24% of total imports of goods. In services, it accounted for 6% of total exports and 9.3% of total imports in 2017. 

More recent monthly figures are also in line with these totals. In no aspect of trade are the figures close to 90%.

Verdict: FALSE

As per our verdict guide, this means: The claim is inaccurate.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

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