The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recorded a significant fall in both British imports and exports to the European Union (EU) in January.

According to the ONS, UK goods exports to the EU fell 40.7%, while imports of EU goods into Britain dropped by 28.8%; this equates to a £5.3bn fall in exports in January 2021, and a £8.9bn fall in imports.

These are the first figures since the new trading rules between the UK and the EU were introduced, which the ONS said was a “notable hit” though “likely the result of temporary factors”, and was smaller than some had expected.

However, the ONS added that other data suggests that trade levels started to recover towards the end of January — it also said businesses had been stockpiling ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period, and so may have been using their stock instead of buying new goods at the beginning of the year.

Falls in goods coming into the country were largely seen in machinery and transport equipment, as well as chemicals from the EU, but the ONS said companies were reporting that trade was getting easier — the number of businesses that said they were unable to export between the middle and the final week of January had fallen by 5.4%, while those saying they couldn’t import had dropped by 3%.