Manufacturers in Brexit voting regions increasingly dependent on EU export markets – Make UK/BDO ana

Manufacturers in Brexit voting regions increasingly dependent on EU export markets – Make UK/BDO ana

Key findings:

  • EU remains overwhelmingly dominant market for manufacturing exports
  • Main Brexit voting regions have increased their dependence on the EU market
  • Orders exceed output in most Regions & Nations indicating supply chain bottlenecks
  • Almost a quarter of companies say support for exports would be one of the top three ways Govt could help manufacturers
  • North East top performer for output, Yorkshire & Humber for orders
  • South East leads the way on investment with South West best for jobs growth

The UK regions and Nations which voted for Brexit have increased their dependence on the EU for manufacturing exports, while the European market remains the overwhelming favoured destination for the sector.

The findings come from the Annual Regional Manufacturing Outlook published today by Make UK and business advisory firm BDO. The report examines the contribution of manufacturing to the economies of every English Region as well as the devolved nations. It analyses both the most recent official data, as well as Make UK’s own quarterly data across a wide range of indicators including output, orders, employment, investment intentions.

The analysis of official data from 2021 shows that the EU remains overwhelmingly the dominant market for UK goods with an overall average level of 49% of exports going to the bloc. Wales (60%), the North East (58%), East Midlands (51%) and East of England (48%) all saw their share of manufacturing exports to the EU increase while Yorkshire & Humber (57%) stayed the same. The South West, Scotland and Northern Ireland also saw their shares increase. (1)

Given the fact the EU remains by some distance the most important export destination for UK goods Make UK believes it is essential the Government takes steps to ease the trading relationship with the bloc and renews additional support to boost exports, especially for SMEs. This must include:

  1. Taking immediate steps to come to a mutual understanding with the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol which avoids significant shocks to trade with the EU and provides a clear and stable business environment
  2. Easing the friction around the CA/CE marking regime by allowing CE marketed goods to be continually recognised on the GB market for as long as the rules in the UK have not diverged and remain the same
  3. Re-establish the SME Brexit Support Fund and other targeted schemes that will enable firms to respond to new market regulations in GB and other changes to trade with EU that will come into effect in 2023. In a recent Make UK survey almost a quarter (22%) of manufacturers cited support for exports as one of the top three ways Government could help them grow their business.

Commenting, Verity Davidge, Policy Director of Make UK, said:

“Despite the talk of ‘Global Britain’ history shows that geography is always the main determinant of trade. The EU was always going to remain the main destination for manufacturers who appear to becoming more, not less, dependent on it as a market. As a result, it is vital the Government now takes steps to reset the trading relationship with the bloc and, wherever possible, eases and simplifies trading to boost exports for SMEs in particular.”

Richard Austin, Head of Manufacturing at BDO, said:

“Manufacturing businesses have done a good job in adapting to new post-Brexit rules for trading with the EU, but ongoing Government support may well be required, particularly for firms at the smaller end of the spectrum.

“Clearly, there are difficult ongoing political issues relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol. However, it’s vitally important that good trading relationships with our European neighbours are maintained to ensure that trade remains as frictionless as possible.

“We also hope to see further progress on free trade deals which could offer new and exciting opportunities for the UK’s manufacturing exporters.”

The analysis also shows the extent to which the economies of every region and Nation were impacted by the pandemic with the GVA of every area dropping in 2020 (the latest year for which data available) with those areas with a very heavy exposure to sub-sectors such as aerospace and automotive hit especially hard.

The West Midlands saw the largest hit to its economy (a drop of -12.7% GVA) given its dependence on the automotive sector, with car plants forced to suspend production and the resulting impact on the supply chain.

The report also shows that over the last year, according to data from Make UK’s quarterly surveys, every single region and nation saw positive balances across all indicators, showing how well the sector has performed over the last year. This reflects a combination of the bounce back from the pandemic and strong world trade, but also highlights how this period may come to be seen as good as it gets for manufacturers for some time to come given how fast economic conditions are weakening in major markets.

While every region saw positive growth, the report also highlights the challenges from disrupted supply chains with eight out of ten regions and Nations reporting orders exceeding output over the twelve month period, highlighting the issues companies are facing delivering on orders.

Individually the North East was the best performer for output growth, which may reflect the sub-sector composition of the region, almost a third of which is represented by pharmaceuticals and chemicals which have continued to perform strongly.

The South East led the way for investment intentions, Yorkshire & Humber the best for output growth whilst the South West saw the best levels of job growth.


Notes to Editors

1. Source: UK Trade Info


% share of exports to the EU



Northern Ireland






North East



Yorkshire and The Humber






East Midlands



North West



United Kingdom






South East & London



West Midlands



South West




All other data taken from Make UK Quarterly Manufacturing Outlook surveys

About Make UK

Make UK, The Manufacturers’ Organisation, is the representative voice of UK manufacturing, with offices in London, Brussels, every English region and Wales.

Collectively we represent 20,000 companies of all sizes, from start-ups to multinationals, across engineering, manufacturing, technology and the wider industrial sector. We directly represent over 5,000 businesses who are members of Make UK. Everything we do – from providing essential business support and training to championing manufacturing industry in the UK and the EU – is designed to help British manufacturers compete, innovate and grow.

From HR and employment law, health and safety to environmental and productivity improvement, our advice, expertise and influence enables businesses to remain safe, compliant and future-focused.


Accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP provides integrated advice and solutions to help businesses navigate a changing world.

Our clients are Britain’s economic engine – ambitious, entrepreneurially-spirited and high growth businesses that fuel the economy. 

We share our clients’ ambitions and their entrepreneurial mind-set. We have the right combination of global reach, integrity and expertise to help them succeed. 

BDO LLP operates in 18 offices across the UK, employing 6,000 people offering tax, audit and assurance, and a range of advisory services. BDO LLP is the UK member firm of the BDO International network.

The BDO global network provides business advisory services in 167 countries, with 91,000 people working out of 1,658 offices worldwide. It has revenues of $10.3bn.