The UK economy grew 0.4 per cent in February as the country endured the latest lockdown, while trade with the EU partially rebounded after a historic fall in January, official figures show.
The economy enjoyed a slight boost as businesses adapted to restrictions but economic output remained 7.8 per cent down on its level a year earlier and 3.1 per cent below the initial recovery peak in October 2020.
Exports to the EU grew 46.6 per cent from a low base after a 42 per cent drop in January as companies struggled to adapt to new trade rules after Brexit.
However, exports were still significantly lower in February than they were before the end of the Brexit transition period.
Gross domestic product (GDP) fell less than previously thought in January, down 2.2 per cent, not 2.9 per cent as had been estimated, the Office for National Statistics reported.
Restrictions were in place to varying degrees across all four nations of the UK throughout January and February.
All main sectors of the economy remained below their pre-pandemic levels, with services still notably lower than the initial recovery peak in October 2020.
Manufacturing was down 4.2 per cent compared to February last year, construction was down 4.3 per cent and services – which make up the bulk of the economy – remains 8.8 per cent down.
The latest figures indicate the scale of recovery required as services businesses, including shops, restaurants and hairdressers, begin to re-open their doors this week.
Retailers and pubs reported brisk trade on Monday, with queues forming outside stores on high streets as footfall doubled from the week before.
An Office for National Statistics (ONS) spokeswoman said: “The economy showed some improvement in February after the large falls seen at the start of the year but remains around 8 per cent below its pre-pandemic level.
“Wholesalers and retailers both saw sales pick up a little, while manufacturing improved with car producers experiencing a partial recovery from a poor January.
“Construction grew strongly after revised figures showed they had struggled in the last couple of months.
“Exports to the EU recovered significantly from their January fall, though still remain below 2020 levels.
“However, imports from the EU are yet to significantly rebound, with a number of issues hampering trade.”
Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chamber of Commerce, said: “The latest data confirms a modest return to growth in February.
“However, coming after a contraction in January, it does little to alter the prospect of a downbeat first quarter for the UK economy.
“The pick-up in output in February reflected a broad-based improvement in activity with all the main sectors recording an increase in growth.
“The clarity provided by February’s announcement of a road map for reopening also helped support output in the month.”