The growing uncertainty about Brexit weighs heavily on the British economy, which slowed down to its weakest growth rate since the wake of the global financial crisis last year, according to official figures on Monday.

The Office for National Statistics said the British economy grew by only 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter, compared to the 0.6 percent deficit recorded in the previous three-month period.

For 2018 as a whole the economy grew by 1.4 percent, the lowest percentage since 2009, when it fell by 4.2 percent in the aftermath of the global financial crisis that had brought a large part of the world's banking system to its knees .

Statisticians have not directly blamed Brexit for the delay, but there are sufficient indications that the uncertainties surrounding the departure of the country from the European Union are weighing heavily on economic activity, particularly on business investment. In the fourth quarter, corporate investment fell by 1.4 percent for the fourth successive quarterly decline – the first time since the financial crisis.

With less than 50 days to go to the Brexit day on March 29, companies have no idea what the country's new trade relations with the EU will look like, so they take the first safety.

Ben Brettell, senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, notes that business investment is "the most Brexit-sensitive element" of the British economy.

According to the head of the statistical office, the GDP figures, Rob Kent-Smith, the slowdown in the last three months of the year was particularly "steep" in car production and steel production, offset by the continued growth in the services sector, which is about 80 is percent of the British economy

Brexit is not only to blame for the delay. The trade tensions between the US and China and the volatility in the financial markets have influenced global growth. And many of Britain's major trading partners in Europe, such as Germany and Italy, have witnessed a slowdown.

But Britain is generally worse than most developed economies and the main reason is Brexit.

"There is little doubt that the Brexit uncertainty is the cause of the disappointing figures, although worries about world trade have also played a role," Brettell said.

Although the British economy has largely held up better than expected in the immediate aftermath of the June 2016 vote to leave the European Union, companies are getting sharper as the Brexit day gets closer. And there is no sign that the uncertainty described by the Bank of England as the "fog of the Brexit" will rise rapidly, so the economy is not expected to improve in the first quarter of this year.

Prime Minister Theresa May struggles to save the Brexit deal she agreed with the EU late last year after it was overwhelmingly rejected by British lawmakers. It is trying to come up with EU concessions, in particular a controversial provision to ensure that no hard line returns between the EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

It is unclear that they will be able to make concessions and in recent weeks the fear has grown that Britain could come without a deal from the EU, a scenario in the worst case that the Bank of England has said earlier, the British economy could shrink by 8 percent within a few months and house prices collapse by about a third.

Analysts were cautious not to conclude from fourth-quarter data that Britain is on its way to a decline in production in the first quarter of 2019, not least because British consumer spending is often resilient.

"Today's data provide clear signals that the Brexit uncertainty is depressing the economy, but we would not hurry to conclude that GDP is on track to fall straight into the first quarter," said Samuel Tombs, head of U.K. economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

"Consistent growth in household spending, thanks to low inflation and robust growth in labor income, should keep GDP on a slightly upward trend."

Related:

Copyright 2019 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

subscribe

Do you want to stay informed?

Receive the latest news about insurance
sent directly to your inbox.