UK economy flat-lines in Q4 amid Brexit and election clouds

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlines his government's negotiating stance with the European Union after Brexit, during a key speech at the Old Naval College in Greenwich, London, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

LONDON – Uncertainty related to Brexit seems to have weighed heavily on the British economy during the final quarter of 2019 as output flat-lined, official data showed Tuesday.

In its first assessment of the quarter as a whole, the Office for National Statistics said increases in the services and construction sectors were offset by another poor showing from manufacturing, particularly the motor industry.

As a result, the economy stagnated following an upwardly revised 0.5% growth performance in the third quarter.

Overall, the British economy grew by 1.4% in 2019, just ahead of the previous year's rate of 1.3%. That annual performance was slightly better than anticipated and largely due to the fact that the previous two quarterly performances were revised higher.

The statistics agency noted that growth has been “particularly volatile” throughout 2019, in part reflecting “changes in the timing of activity" related to the U.K.’s delayed exit dates from the European Union.

Brexit wasn't the only reason behind the flat performance. Like other major economies in Europe, Britain has been hurt by the trade war between the United States and China, which has hobbled global growth.

“The noisy U.S.-China trade negotiations and downturn in global trade and manufacturing further added to business and household anxieties,” said Kallum Pickering, senior economist at Berenbeg Bank.

Compared with other countries, Britain actually didn't do that badly — the nearby 19-country eurozone economy only expanded by 0.1% during the quarter, with France contracting during the period.