| 27 May 2024, Monday |

Britain’s economy shrank 1.5% in first quarter

Britain’s economy shrank 1.5 per cent in the first quarter of the year when England was plunged into its third lockdown, however a strong recovery in March helped to prevent a larger contraction.

UK gross domestic product grew 2.1 per cent in March – the fastest monthly growth since August last year – as the economy gained momentum when coronavirus restrictions started to ease with the reopening of schools.

The surge in gross domestic product followed a 0.7 per cent increase in February, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said despite a difficult start to the year, economic growth in March is “a promising sign of things to come”.

“Our Plan for Jobs is working – following the comprehensive package we put in place, almost 2 million fewer people are expected to be out of work than initially forecast, and the UK economy is in a strong position to grow quickly as we emerge from the pandemic,” Mr Sunak said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Even with this positive news, we know that many businesses and people will still need our help. As we cautiously reopen the economy, I will continue to take all the steps necessary to support our economy.”

The rise in output in March comes a year after GDP shrank almost 20 per cent during the nationwide lockdown last spring, at the start of the pandemic.

Since then the government has pumped millions into support programmes to help prop up the economy during the crisis, with its furlough scheme to protect jobs extended by Mr Sunak in his March budget  until September – after the coronavirus restrictions are set to be fully lifted in June.

Meanwhile, UK goods exports to the EU rose 8.6 per cent in March from a month earlier and are now almost back to their December level, while imports from the bloc remained sluggish with an increase of 4.5 per cent – outstripped by non-EU imports for the first time on record, the ONS said.

Imports fell 13.9 per cent in the first quarter, almost double the pace expected, and exports dropped 7.5 per cent.