UK employment hits record high despite Brexit uncertainty

Anti-Brexit demonstrators protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London. (Reuters pic)

LONDON: British employment has reached a record-high level, shaking off stubborn uncertainty surrounding the UK’s departure from the European Union, official data showed on Tuesday.

“The level of employment in the UK increased by 179,000 to a record high of 32.72 million people in the three months to February 2019,” the Office for National Statistics said in a statement.

That was the highest level since records began in 1971, according to the ONS.

The unemployment rate remained at 3.9%, the lowest level since 1975.

“The UK job market remained encouragingly buoyant in February, with a combination of rising employment and falling unemployment pushing pay up at one of the fastest rates seen since the global financial crisis over 10 years ago,” noted Christopher Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit.

“However, forward-looking survey data suggest that demand for staff has cooled, which will likely feed through to weaker jobs growth and easing pay pressures in coming months.”

European leaders last week agreed with British Prime Minister Theresa May to delay Brexit until Oct 31 at the latest, saving the continent from a chaotic no-deal departure.

The delay avoids a possible economic calamity on both sides of the Channel but does little to resolve the political morass that has seen May’s control over her MPs and cabinet gradually slip.

Following Tuesday’s jobs data, analysts at Capital Economics said Brexit was “not applying the brakes to hiring” just yet in the UK.

“However, we suspect that this could mark the peak of employment growth as the Brexit uncertainty reached its crescendo… and the surveys turned down sharply in March,” they added in a note to clients.