Britain's first quarter economic growth figures due amid fears of new recession

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Britain's Office for National Statistics is set to release its estimate of the country's economic growth — or lack of it — in the first quarter.

The numbers are being closely watched because a decline would mean the U.K. economy has slipped back into recession.

Britain's government desperately wants a robust number to justify its austerity policies. But indicators ahead of Thursday's release have not been promising for Britain, the third-largest economy in the 27-country EU.

Economists on average expect the figures will show the economy grew 0.1 percent compared with the previous quarter. But with growth so anemic, even a statistical blip could put the number in negative territory and push Britain into its third recession since 2008.

A recession is typically defined as two quarters of economic contraction.