12.30pm AFTERNOON HEADLINES
Good afternoon, and welcome to our rolling coverage of Pound Sterling, British business, the eurozone, the world economy and the financial markets.
The Pound has sunk 0.45 percent against the Euro to 1.1318, and remains down on the Dollar 0.53 percent to 1.383.
As Brussels releases its first draft of a historic UK exit agreement, Michel Barnier has sent Sterling in freefall after claiming that the EU has come up with an “imaginative and creative” solution to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.
The crucial segment of text states: “The territory of Northern Ireland…shall be considered to be part of the customs territory of the Union”.
Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, Mr Barnier promised that the draft legal text “contains no surprises to our UK partners” and merely reveals the “joint commitments” between the UK and EU as agreed with Threresa May in December.
Although the UK repeatedly promised to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the EU wants a “fallback” border option.
Mr Barnier claims that having a sea border between Northern Ireland and the UK mainland did not “call into question the constitutional order of the UK. We will respect that”.
Adding: “We have applied imagination and creativity to find a solution that Brexit poses to the Good Friday Agreement”.
Updates below throughout the day….
3.05pm – US growth downgraded
The US Commerce Department has said that GDP expanded at 2.5 percent in the final three months of 2017, instead of the previously reported 2.6 percent.
US GDP has fallen from 3.2 percent in the third quarter.
Fed Chairman Jerome Powell had hit an upbeat note on the economy before lawmakers on Tuesday, saying “my personal outlook for the economy has strengthened since December.”
That prompted traders to raise their bets on four rate increases this year.
2.58pm – UPDATE – Downward trend continues
The Pound is still down 0.54 percent against the Euro to 1.1308, and down 0.7 percent to 1.3806.
Former Prime Minister John Major has spoken on Brexit and claimed that the Government’s negotiating position was not realistic, he urged the Prime Minister to be prepared to “change course” and seek a Norway-style solution which would involve accepting single market rules and paying for access to EU markets.1.34pm – UPDATE – Pound falls further
Sterling is now down 0.54 percent against the Euro to 1.1308, and down 0.63 percent against the Dollar to 1.3816.
12.55pm – UPDATE – Two major retail chains call in the administrators
Over 5,000 jobs are at risk after Toys R Us and Maplin went into administration today.
At Toys R Us 3,000 jobs are at risk from its 105 UK stores.
While over at Maplin, Graham Harris, chief executive confirmed that the retailer has gone into administration.
He said: “I can confirm this morning that it has not been possible to secure a solvent sale of the business and as a result we now have no alternative but to enter into an administration process. During this process Maplin will continue to trade and remains open for business.”