The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union caused British exports to the bloc to plummet by 15.6 percent during the first half of 2021, according to new research.

The nosedive, which cost 12.4 billion pounds ($15 billion) in lost sales, was highlighted by researchers at Aston University and first reported by the Financial Times.

The study found the EU’s health and safety standards on imports from non-member countries of such things as food and chemicals were especially difficult for British exporters to meet. Technical specifications for machinery were also particularly problematic.

Professor Du Jun, a co-author of the report and professor of economics at Aston Business School, said the sharp fall in exports was clearly down to more than “teething problems”.

“If it was just a matter of business adjusting” to the new way of working, “they probably would have figured out what to do after a few months”, she told the Financial Times.

William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said businesses had been complaining about the EU health and safety standards and its technical specifications for some time.

“Traders all over Great Britain have consistently told us how these requirements have reduced their competitiveness,” he said.

Former chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne told LBC Radio such challenges highlight why the UK should not have left the bloc.

“I’ve come to terms with the result (of the referendum) but if you want me to think it was a good idea, I’m not going to think that,” he said, as he described the UK’s exit from the EU as the biggest attempt at protectionism in British history.

“It’s caused a lot of damage to Britain’s economy,” he said while insisting free trade with Europe “has got to be a priority for whoever’s in government for the next few years”.

But, ironically, the prospect of edging back toward free trade with the EU looked a long way off on Wednesday as the nation’s plans to abandon legislation agreed during its divorce from the EU triggered new legal action from the bloc.

The legislation, which that relates to trade between the bloc and Northern Ireland and that is known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, ensures a hard border can be avoided on the island of Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market for goods.

But the British government has said it is unworkable because of “burdensome bureaucracy and paperwork” and that it will be abandoned.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said such “unilateral action” would damage “mutual trust” and many experts are now expecting a trade war, which would put an even bigger dent in the UK’s exports to the bloc.

Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “We are now teetering on the brink of a trade war with the EU and that will mean further economic pain and falls in investment.”

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