UKs exports outside of EU continue to rise as reliance on Europe soar

In a sign that the UK could prosper if it quit Brussels, sales to EU countries lagged behind exports to the rest of the world in 2015 for the second year in a row.

Official figures also showed that Britain bought far more from EU countries than they bought from us – with the gap at an all-time high of £89billion. Britons propped up struggling EU economies by buying French wine, German cars, Spanish vegetables and Italian clothes.

Eurosceptics said it showed Europe needs Britain more than Britain needs Europe, claiming the UK would be better off if voters opted to quit.

Tory MP John Redwood said that EU nations would be happy to strike trade deals following a so-called Brexit, adding: ‘They are not going to want to impose barriers on trade. Trade with Britain is so profitable.’

The gap between EU and non-EU exports widened from £1.7billion in 2014 to £17billion last year and underlined the shift in British trade to faster growing regions of the world.

The EU accounted for 62 per cent of British exports in 2006, compared with just 47 per cent last year.

David Cameron has urged UK business leaders to join the campaign for Britain to stay in the EU in the hope that they can convince voters of the economic benefits.

But yesterday’s trade figures, from the Office for National Statistics, undermined claims that quitting the EU would be disastrous for the economy.

The ONS said sales of British goods to the EU fell 8 per cent to a six-year low of just £134billion in 2015 – £31billion less than in 2011 when the eurozone debt crisis plunged the region into recession.

By contrast, exports to non-EU countries edged up more than 2 per cent to £151billion last year, meaning they accounted for 53 per cent of overseas sales by British companies.

It was the biggest share of exports that the rest of the world has accounted for since comparable records began in 1998.

Ukip MP Douglas Carswell said: ‘With every set of trade figures, the EU is declining in importance to our economy.

‘If our children and our grandchildren are going to prosper, we need to be free to trade with the whole world.

‘Europe is the world’s only declining trade bloc. We are better off out.’

Since Britain joined the Common Market in the Seventies, it has exported more goods to Europe than to the rest of the world.

But the strong pound and subdued demand across the beleaguered Eurozone has hit exports and forced UK firms to exploit faster growing markets.

Exports to the Netherlands tumbled 22.4 per cent last year while sales to the Irish Republic were 7.4 per cent lower. Sales to France fell 5.8 per cent, while they were down 4.4 per cent to Belgium and Luxembourg, 3.7 per cent to Spain, 2.6 per cent to Italy and 0.5 per cent to Germany.

Sales of British goods to China were also down 17.8 per cent as the slowdown in the world’s second largest economy took its toll.

But exports to the US – Britain’s biggest trade partner and the world’s biggest economy – jumped 27.1 per cent to a record high of £47.5billion. Demand for British goods in Japan, Canada, Israel, Singapore and the Philippines was also on the rise.

Allie Renison, head of trade policy at the Institute of Directors, said: ‘As growth remains elusive across much of Europe, UK firms are looking further afield.’

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Vote Leave campaign, said: ‘The EU needs our trade today more than it ever has before.’