NORTH-East residents who voted for Brexit may well have shot the region in the foot, according to research released on the eve of the Government moving to trigger Article 50.

Researchers at the thinktank Demos, found the North-East would be among the worst hit by the effects of a hard Brexit as it relied disproportionately heavily on EU structural funding and exports to the EU, sending at least 62 per cent of its products to the continent.

The report found while residents in Darlington, Durham, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton, Redcar and Cleveland, Sunderland, Gateshead, North Tyneside and South Tyneside, and Northumberland opted to leave the EU, with immigration cited as a key issue, the North-East economy is less reliant than many regions on EU labour.

In the vote last June, almost 70 per cent in some of the region's areas, opted to leave the EU.

While the Government hopes to strike a new free trade agreement with the EU, fears are growing it will crash out of the union without a deal.

Exporters would then be forced to rely on World Trade Organisation terms, which include punitive tariffs for manufactured goods such as cars.

Researchers had previously found the North-East and North Yorkshire would lose £665m of EU funding after 2020 when “Brexit” goes ahead.

Tom Startup, co-author of the report Making the Most of Brexit, said: “The most worrying in terms of the North-East is that a very high proportion of the goods exported from the region go to the EU.

“While the overall for the UK is 45 per cent, for the North-East we found it is 62 per cent, which is the second highest after Wales.

“Much of the exports from the North-East will be in the manufacturing sector and the sector faces potentially high tariffs if we are outside the EU.”

Mr Startup added: “We have worked out the North-East receives the third highest amount of EU structural funds in relation to its economy, so again that puts it potentially at risk, as some deprived areas of the region would be reliant on those funds.”

Reacting to the report, North East England Chamber of Commerce director of policy, Ross Smith, said the North-East had been left facing "economic challenges" associated with Brexit.

He said: “This does not mean that it is going to be inevitably bad news – it just means that Government has got to rise to the challenge.

“We are in regular discussions with ministers and civil servants across different departments to make sure they understand what the potential implications for the North-East can be.”

Darlington Labour MP Jenny Chapman said the prospect of crashing out of the EU without a deal would be catastrophic for the North-East and that the government needed to commit to matching EU grants the region had received.

She added: “As Demos points out 62 per cent of our exports to the EU, which makes us particularly vulnerable to a bad deal and, even worse, no deal."

North East Institute of Directors chairman Graham Robb described the Demos report as overly pessimistic about Britain's opportunities in the wider world.

He said: “The first thing we have in the North-East is a massive injection of money in terms of the lower exchange rate to make the price of goods exported abroad much cheaper. That injection of money is already starting to help our exports.

"We have got to stiffen our sinew and conjure up the blood to go and export and make the case for Britain."