BUSINESSES in Dorset exported almost £400 million worth of goods to the EU last year, figures reveal.

The latest trade figures from HM Revenue and Customs show that 1,178 businesses registered in the Dorset area exported goods to countries in the European Union during 2018.

Their combined sales came to £385 million – 36% of the total value of exports from the area.

Sales to non-EU countries brought in £679 million over the course of the year.

The figures only include trade in goods, and not services.

More businesses in Dorset export to EU countries than to rest of the world – 1,178 compared to 877.

Across the UK, more than 120,000 companies exported £170 billion worth of goods to the EU in 2018, with more businesses exporting within the bloc than outside of it in every region of the country.

Brexit has continued to dominate the general election campaign, with the main parties clashing over the UK's future relationship with the EU.

While the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has agreed a withdrawal agreement with the EU – yet to be approved by Parliament – a no-deal Brexit still remains the default option if a trade deal is not agreed in the ensuing transition period, currently set to end on December 31 2020.

The Conservative Party insists the best way to provide certainty to businesses is to pass Mr Johnson's Brexit deal with a Tory majority.

The Liberal Democrats' deputy leader Sir Ed Davey said his was the only "major party wanting to protect the interests of businesses" by cancelling Brexit.

He said: "By stopping Brexit, Liberal Democrats will give businesses the certainty they need and allow them to continue trading freely with our largest trading partner."

Labour meanwhile said it would negotiate a new deal that protects EU-UK trade, and put it to the people in a referendum for a final say.

A spokesman said: "Most areas in the UK benefit greatly from trade with our neighbours. That’s why Labour has always argued for a sensible deal that protects trade: a new customs union, a close single market relationship and guarantees of rights and protections."

Business bodies including the British Chambers of Commerce and the Confederation of British Industry have warned about the threat a disorderly exit would pose, as well as the introduction of tariffs if the UK leaves the customs union.

The CBI says the South West is particularly exposed to the threat of a no-deal Brexit because of its reliance on key sectors such as the automotive and logistics industries.

The industry body predicts that a failure to strike a deal could lead to a 7.6% drop in the value of goods and services produced in the region by 2034.

This would be an annual loss of £13 billion in today’s prices, more than all public health spending in the region.

A Conservative Party spokeswoman said the withdrawal agreement made clear a future relationship would be based on a free trade agreement, ensuring goods can continue to travel tariff free.

She added: "This deal also gives us the freedom – for the first time in 40 years – to strike free trade deals with countries all over the world.

"This will be a huge boon for businesses and jobs, making it easier for British businesses to sell their fantastic products across the world."

Dorset businesses also imported £460 million worth of goods from the EU bloc in 2018 – 45% of total imports.

Overall, 1,764 companies imported products from the EU, compared to 1,111 that traded with the rest of the world.