Lord Digby Jones, a cross-bench peer, claimed that 90% of Ireland’s trade was with the UK. This claim was shared over 1.7k times on Twitter.

This article finds that the Lord’s figure is a vast overestimate.

Silence in the Library

90% of [Ireland’s] trade is with the UK.

The House of Commons Library is an excellent research organisation, writing briefing papers to inform debates in the Commons. Matthew Ward’s paper looks at UK-Ireland bilateral trade. (It was, by good fortune, published two days prior to Lord Jones’ Twitter claim.)

External trade statistics from the Irish Central Statistics Office show that, quoting the Commons Library paper:

  • Irish goods exports to the UK fell from 56% of total goods exports in 1974 to 11% in 2018.
  • Goods imports from the UK fell from 48% of total goods imports in 1981 to 20% in 2016.

The above figures are for goods: what about services?

Service trade statistics are less timely, and the latest figures are for 2017:

  • The UK is Ireland’s largest services export market, representing 16% of total services exports;
  • The UK share of Ireland’s total services imports is 9%.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK has a trade surplus with Ireland of £16.4bn in 2018. This is the UK’s second largest trade surplus with any individual country — the largest was with the United States.

Trading stats

It may be that Lord Jones is mistakenly recalling a distinct statistic about UK-Irish trade. In June 2018, Chris Morris of BBC’s Reality Check wrote that (referring to 2017):

About 85% of Ireland’s total EU freight trade goes via British ports — 475,925 containers last year.

Looking in the CSO report (Table 5A), by tonnage in 2017: 84% of Ireland’s total EU roll-on roll-off traffic is with Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

It is conducive for constructive political debate for statistics quoted by politicians to be precise and accurate.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

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