THE UK economy expanded by just 0.2 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2018, official figures have shown, as Brexit uncertainty took a heavy toll on activity.

Steep falls in the manufacturing of cars and steel products and a drop in construction activity were cited, as growth slipped back from 0.6 per cent the previous quarter.

And business investment tumbled 1.4%, meaning rowth on this measure has now fallen for four consecutive quarters. It suggests companies are continuing to put investment decisions on hold while they await a breakthrough on Brexit.

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Official figures show that activity was particularly constrained in December, when gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 0.4%.

The Office for National Statistics said real GDP growth slowed markedly in the fourth quarter after a pick-up in activity in the summer months because of the warm weather and the football World Cup.

The agency estimates that year-on-year growth eased back to 1.3% in the fourth quarter, after edging up to 1.5% in the third quarter. And it estimates that UK GDP grew by 1.4% in 2018, down from 1.8% in 2017, which, along with its performance in 2012, represents its weakest growth since 2009.

The figures come after Bank of England Governor Mark Carney warned last week of the negative effects from the “fog of Brexit” on business investment and consumer confidence.

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The Bank cut growth forecast for 2019 from 1.7% to 1.2%, which would be its weakest expansion since the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.

Sterling was down 0.56% Sterling was down 0.56 per cent against the dollar at $1.29 at 5pm last night.

Ben Bretell at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “There’s little doubt Brexit uncertainty is responsible for the disappointing numbers, though concerns over global trade will also have played a part. Business investment – the most Brexit-sensitive element of GDP - dropped 3.7% Q4 against a year earlier, the biggest fall since early 2010.”

Howard Archer of the EY ITEM Club, said: “Monthly GDP data showed the economy ended 2018 flat on its back as it contracted 0.4% month-on-month in December, with all sectors struggling.

"Output in the dominant services sector fell 0.2% month-on-month as it was impacted by a marked drop in retail activity."