Ongoing uncertainty over the outcome of talks between the UK and EU has driven British exporters to diversify away from the 27-nation bloc, according to new research by Lloyds Bank and Aston Business School.

The study, titled A New World for Global British Business, is based on an analysis of 340,000 quarterly export transactions made by 26,000 UK exporters over five years – from the pre-referendum period in 2015 onwards – as well as the polling of 1,200 British firms in October this year.

It found that relative growth in UK export values to the EU have fallen by an average of 8.7% annually, with approximately £50bn in export value diverted away from the EU since the Brexit referendum result in June 2016.

These diverted exports went primarily to the Brics countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, as well as Commonwealth countries such as Australia, New Zealand and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, the analysis found. In addition, there was some diversion to wealthy Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries including the US, Japan and South Korea.

“The shift in diversion we found goes against conventional ‘trade gravity’ models, in which countries geographically close to each other tend to do more trade,” says Jun Du, professor of economics at Aston Business School and director of the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Business Prosperity. “Instead, from the referendum through to today we see exporters exploring new trading partners around the world.”

The survey results show that this trend is likely to continue. Of the exporters polled, just over a third said that they were planning to expand into new markets beyond the EU, with one in five changing trading partners to divert their business. Meanwhile, 29% of exporters said they have reviewed and made changes to their own supply chains because of Brexit.

A closer look at the numbers shows that the biggest shifts in trade diversion were by those exporters who fall into the lowest 25% of export value – usually SMEs – which switched as much as 46% of new export growth to non-EU markets, versus 19% for the next quartile up of exporters. This, says Du, could lead to serious issues.

“Our concern lies with the vulnerabilities faced by businesses that export less, forging these paths while lacking the infrastructure and scale of multinational firms as this reverse in trade gravity typically means higher costs and greater risk exposure,” she says, adding that “more needs to be done” to help British businesses of all sizes navigate the future of international trade.

On this front, recent reports on government support for smaller exporters paint a concerning picture. For example, a recent inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee, a select group of cross-party MPs tasked with examining the value for money of government programmes, found “major failures” in the UK’s export credit agency, UK Export Finance (UKEF)’s, progress in helping exporters. Meanwhile, a separate inquiry, begun in July by the International Trade Committee (ITC), also revealed concerns about the process of applying for support, with a high number of projects not meeting the eligibility criteria for UKEF’s digital approval system.

This month’s government spending review includes a £18mn increase to UKEF’s resource budget, which it says will enhance its ability to support British trade around the world. “This budget increase will allow us to continue delivering for UK exporters, and ensure we have the right resources in place to deliver on the government’s priorities,” says Louis Taylor, UKEF’s CEO.

How the UK’s exporters will chart a course through the post-Brexit trading environment remains to be seen, but the evidence in this study shows a clear picture of reduction of export flows towards EU markets, which – with no clarity yet on whether or not a trade deal will be hammered out by the two sides before the December 31 deadline – are now perceived as riskier than before.