British exports worth billions have faced EU tariffs since Brexit
British exports worth billions of pounds have faced tariffs on trade with the EU since Brexit, according to an analysis of official EU statistics.
Despite the tariff-free deal agreed with the EU, a study by the University of Sussex found up to £3.5bn of British exports had taxes applied.
That accounts for about 10% of British goods exports to the EU.
Some firms paid due to the complexity of claiming zero tariffs, or said they planned to reclaim the fees later.
For exporters, maintaining zero tariffs under the post-Brexit deal is not automatic: it needs to be claimed on customs declarations that from January have had to accompany every export to the European Union.
An analysis for the BBC, by the University of Sussex's Trade Policy Observatory, used European customs data from these declarations.
The figures indicated that between £2.5bn and £3.5bn of British exports faced a tariff in the first three months of 2021.
The European Commission confirmed that according to data collected by its customs authorities, €2.5bn of eligible UK exports did not use the zero-tariff agreement.
"Tariff-free trade is only tariff-free if firms not only meet the rules of origin criteria, but also can deal with the necessary bureaucracy and paperwork," said Prof Michael Gasiorek, trade expert at the University of Sussex.
"What this analysis shows is that in the first quarter, around 27% of trade that could have entered tariff-free did not do so.
"In some sectors and for some firms, this will no doubt improve, but it reflects the reality that leaving the EU has imposed real costs on firms, with long-term implications for trade and production."
The data covers all British exports to the EU in January and February and some reporting nations in March.
Individual businesses and groups told the BBC of instances where millions of pounds in tariffs had been paid.
Most put this down to complex arrangements for claiming zero tariffs, difficulties over the re-export to the EU of goods processed in Britain, and an expectation that some of these fees could eventually be recovered. Some of the world's biggest multinationals have paid seven-figure tariff bills.