UK retailers say that Brexit uncertainty is stopping consumers from spending big after a low sales month in March, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and accountancy company KPMG.

March retail sales declined by 0.5% year-on-year, while department store spending declined by almost 5%. Consumers also spent less on more expensive items, such as furniture and electronics. Almost seven in ten consumers felt they were ‘not confident with the current environment,’ according to a survey by Barclaycard, while spending in pubs increased by 15% year-on-year and 12% more was spent in restaurants.

The BRC says that the late timing of Easter this year has negatively affected sales due to many shops not yet undergoing the holiday shopping rush.

The news follows recently reported effects of the Brexit uncertainty where more than a quarter of UK shoppers were found to be stockpiling for Brexit.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Retail sales slowed in March, even when the Easter distortions were accounted for, as greater uncertainty caused people to hold off from splashing out.

“Brexit continues to feed the uncertainty among consumers. For the sake of everyone, MPs must rally behind a plan of action that avoids no deal – and quickly – or it will be ordinary families who suffer as a result of higher prices and less choice on the shelves.”

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City Index senior market analyst Fiona Cincotta said: “It didn’t come as a big surprise that UK consumer spending continued to decline in March with the uncertainty over Brexit stopping shoppers from making big ticket purchases such as furniture and putting a dampener on early Easter holiday shopping. The 1.1% dip in annual sales for March comes at the end of a difficult quarter for retailers who have been feeling the pinch for more than two years now.

“Debenhams appears to be the latest high street victim of the Brexit malaise as the company heads for administration after it rejected a rescue plan offer from Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley. Ashley’s late night offer to underwrite a GBP200 million rights issue in exchange for him becoming CEO has been rejected after an acrimonious battle.”