UK unemployment in surprise rise

It remains to be seen what effect Britain's decision to leave the EU will have on employment levels (AFP Photo/Carl Court)

London (AFP) - Britain's unemployment rate climbed to 5.6 percent in the quarter ending in May, with the number of jobless up for the first time in over two years, data showed Wednesday.

Unemployment edged up from 5.5 percent in the quarter ending in February, the Office for National Statistics said in a statement.

The number of unemployed rose by 15,000 to 1.85 million, the first quarterly increase since March 2013, the ONS added.

"It's possible that the rate of improvement in the labour market that we have seen over the last three years may have eased off, though it is too early to be certain," said ONS statistician Nick Palmer.

Analysts said the data could see the Bank of England wait a little longer before raising its main interest rate for the first time in several years, despite governor Mark Carney on Tuesday saying that the time for a hike is moving closer.

"The rise in unemployment and the fact that earnings growth edged lower in May itself may slightly temper increasing belief that the Bank of England could hike interest rates before the end of this year," said Howard Archer, chief UK economist at IHS Global Insight.

"However, the Bank of England is unlikely to place too much attention on one month's labour data," Archer added.