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UK Economy Slowed in 2018 as Brexit Uncertainty Hindered Investment

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02/11/2019 | 05:11am EST

By Paul Hannon

The U.K. economy slowed last year as businesses slashed investment in the face of growing uncertainty about the way in which the country will leave the European Union.

The U.K. is scheduled to leave the bloc on March 29, but it's still not clear whether it will have a transition period that maintains the status quo while a new trade agreement is negotiated or will immediately shift to a new regime of tariffs dictated by World Trade Organization rules.

In the latter case, the Bank of England has warned the economy could fall into recession. But even where there is a transition period, uncertainty about the future relationship is likely to persist as trade talks progress, potentially holding back growth into 2020.

The Office for National Statistics Monday said the U.K.'s gross domestic product--the broadest measure of goods and services produced in the economy--was 1.4% higher in 2018 than in 2017, the weakest expansion since 2012. The economy slowed more sharply as the year drew to a close, with GDP rising at an annualized pace of 0.7% in the three months through December, down from 2.5% in the third quarter. In December alone, GDP fell by 0.4% from the previous month.

Falling investment was largely responsible for the 2018 slowdown and was down 0.9% from the previous year, which was the largest drop since 2009, when the UK economy was caught up in the global recession that accompanied a major financial crisis.

Write to Paul Hannon at paul.hannon@wsj.com.

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