The UK economy was almost stagnant in the three months to February, before the coronavirus crisis escalated and pushed the country into what is likely to be a historic recession, official data showed today.  

UK gross domestic product rose by 0.1% in the three months from December to February, the Office for National Statistics said.

This was weaker than a median forecast for growth of 0.2% in a Reuters poll of economists. 

Economists said the figures were the last that would look anything like normal for a while. 

They said that the coronavirus lockdown will mean that in March and April GDP will fall at a speed and magnitude no one has ever seen and no economy has ever experienced before. 

In February alone, when flooding hit shopping and construction, GDP fell by 0.1% compared with a forecast for growth of 0.1% in the Reuters poll. 

Annual growth in the economy was its slowest since the middle of 2012 as GDP rose by just 0.3%, the ONS said. 

Separate trade data showed Britain's goods trade deficit widened to nearly £11.5 billion in February, wider than a forecast gap of £6 billion pounds in the Reuters poll. 

Britain's underlying trade balance - including its services industries but excluding often volatile movements in gold and other precious metals - went into surplus for the first time in more than 20 years of records in the three months to February.

But the ONS said that reflected a large fall in imported goods which was stronger than a fall in exports.