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LONDON, May 9 (Reuters) - The Bank of England is unlikely to raise interest rates far or fast, even if the economy picks up following a smooth Brexit, Monetary Policy Committee member Michael Saunders said in an interview published on Thursday.
Business investment would probably strengthen following a smooth Brexit but a series of “cliff edges” could cause it to continue to stagnate, Saunders told the Northern Echo newspaper during a visit to northeast England.
“I would expect interest rates will go a bit higher over time, but it won’t be far or fast,” he said.
A ‘neutral’ level for interest rates, which would neither stimulate nor slow the economy, was probably around 2 percent, compared to 5 percent before the 2008 financial crisis, Saunders added.
The Bank of England last raised interest rates in August, increasing them by a quarter of a percentage point to 0.75 percent. Financial markets see little chance of a rates rising this year while it remains unclear on what terms Britain will leave the European Union.
The BoE has long said interest rate rises will most likely be limited and gradual, but last week Governor Mark Carney said markets had gone too far in assuming rates would rise just once over the next three years.
However, on Tuesday the BoE’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, stressed the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit and said it would be “deeply arrogant” to say markets were wrong about the outlook for interest rates or the economy more broadly.
Saunders, the first BoE policymaker to vote for interest rates to rise last year, said Britain had missed out on two to three years of business investment growth since June 2016’s referendum decision to leave the EU.
A smooth Brexit transition to a trading relationship with the EU that was closer than Canada’s, but more distant than Norway’s, “probably wouldn’t be as bad as many businesses fear,” Saunders said.
“No-deal Brexit would be off the table, business investment would recover a bit, the economy would continue to grow steadily and the jobless rate would probably fall,” he added.
By contrast, a no-deal Brexit would most likely cause sterling to fall and push up inflation, as well as causing business investment to fall further.
“That would be painful,” he said. (Reporting by David Milliken, editing by Andy Bruce; Editing by Toby Chopra)
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