Britain’s economy shrank more than expected at the end of last year.
Gross domestic product was down by 0.3 percent as North Sea oil production slumped and factory output fell.
The news is a blow for finance minister George Osborne who just a day earlier had defended the government’s austerity programme following criticism from the International Monetary Fund.
Osborne rejected IMF suggestions that he should consider slowing his deficit reduction plan.
Osborne’s coalition partner, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, has said the government of which he is part had cut investment spending too rapidly.
Opposition Labour Party’ finance spokesman Ed Balls responded to the data by saying the UK government was complacent.
“David Cameron and George Osborne have been asleep at the wheel. They’ve spent the last six months obsessing about a referendum in five years time, not focusing on the problems in our economy today,” Balls said.
The UK needs solid growth to meet budget targets and keep its triple-A credit rating. Without that the cost of borrowing by the government will rise.
Britain’s economy is now 3.3 percent smaller than at its peak in Q1 2008, having recovered only about half the output lost during the financial crisis – a worse performance than most other major economies.
The country slipped back into recession in the last three months of 2011, and only emerged from it in the third quarter of 2012, after a boost from the London Olympics.
Sterling fell to its lowest in 13-1/2 months against the euro and hit a five-month low against the dollar in response to the growth data.