Investment in the British car industry halved last year due largely to uncertainty about future trade with the EU, new figures show today.

This comes as more surveys showed consumers and businesses were more anxious about the economic outlook as Britain heads towards a no-deal Brexit. 

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said that investment in Britain's automotive sector came to £589m last year, nearly 50% less than in 2017 and the lowest since the 2008 financial crisis. 

"Investment has effectively stalled," said SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes, who called on the government to avoid "the permanent devastation" of a no-deal exit by Britain from the European Union. 

"A lot of that is on hold because until you see what the future is, do you have the confidence to invest in that plant when there is that sort of uncertainty?" 

Production also fell by 9% last year. 

The SMMT said it expected car production to fall another 3% in 2019, assuming an orderly Brexit with a transition period to minimise economic disruption.  

Some 850,000 Britons are employed in the car industry.

The UK is due to leave the EU, the world's biggest trading bloc, on March 29. 

Its politicians have rejected the withdrawal agreement Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with Brussels, leaving the country on course for an abrupt exit that could cause major disruptions to trade. 

Other data today showed confidence among British consumers held at a five and a half year low in January. Increasing gloom about the outlook for the next 12 months was offset by a small improvement in personal finances, the GfK index showed. 

Surveys of businesses by the Confederation of British Industry and Lloyds Bank also gave a sobering outlook for the world's fifth-largest economy.

House prices, a key barometer of consumer confidence in Britain, rose by just 0.1% in annual terms in January, their weakest rise in nearly six years. 

The UK housing market has slowed since the Brexit referendum in June 2016 when Nationwide estimated house prices were rising by around 5% a year. 

But warnings by former finance minister George Osborne that a "Leave" vote would hit the value of people’s homes by up to 18% have not materialised. 

That has led many advocates of Brexit to dismiss as a continued "Project Fear" current warnings that a no-deal scenario could cause severe disruptions to food and medical supplies, transportation and manufacturing. 

But the SMMT's Hawes pinned the fall in automotive industry investment firmly on the uncertainties surrounding Brexit. 

"I think the numbers give the lie to that accusation: investment figures, production figures," said Hawes.

"If it's 'Project Fear', then we're doing a good impression of it being a reality," he stated.