The following article is based on a research article published by Full Fact and is used here with kind permission.
On Wednesday, 28th February, during an interview with BBC Good Morning Ulster, Nigel Dodds MP claimed “people who say they don’t want a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic appear to want a hard border between Northern Ireland and our biggest market”. He further claimed that “they say they want to avoid a hard border but what they would do then would be to force a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom where we send 60% of all our sales”.
Does Northern Ireland sell 60% of its goods to Great Britain?
In 2016, Northern Ireland sold £14.6 billion worth of goods and services to Great Britain, which equates to 56% of external sales. External sales are defined as sales by Northern Ireland businesses to destinations outside Northern Ireland, which means sales to Great Britain plus exports beyond the UK.
Therefore, we can conclude that by rounding the figure up, Nigel Dodd’s claim of 60% sales to Great Britain is accurate.
So, how does this compare with trade to Ireland?
In 2016, Northern Ireland exported £4 billion worth of goods and services to Ireland.
Exports are technically described as goods produced in one country which are then shipped to another country for future sale or trade. As Northern Ireland is part of the UK, the sales it makes to England, Scotland and Wales do not count towards exports. Therefore, around 35% of Northern Ireland exports go to Ireland.
These figures are summarised in the following table, compiled by NISRA:
|External sales (outside Northern Ireland)||£26.0|
|Sales to Great Britain||£14.6|
|Great Britain share of external sales||56%|
|Exports to Ireland||£4.0|
|Ireland share of external sales||15%|
Why is it relevant how much Northern Ireland trades with Great Britain and Ireland?
When the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, the currently porous border between Northern Ireland and Ireland could be affected. There is the potential for a land border between a non-EU member state (United Kingdom) and an EU member state (Ireland). Currently the trade of goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland is custom-check free. However, with a hard border this could change and may have knock on implications on trade; what these implications may be are hard to predict.
We found that the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency’s data confirms Nigel Dodd’s claim that Northern Ireland’s “biggest market” is Great Britain. While Dodds claimed that Northern Ireland sends 60% of sales to the UK, the figure is closer to 56%. Comparing this to trade with Ireland, our findings suggest that Northern Ireland is more dependent on trade with Great Britain than it is with Ireland.