Some British manufacturers resumed stockpiling in September as they geared up for the latest Brexit deadline due on 31 October, a survey showed on Tuesday.
The IHS Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) showed the factory sector overall shrank for a fifth month in a row, its longest such run since mid-2009.
But the pace of contraction eased with the PMI's main gauge of activity rising to a four-month high of 48.3, helped by some companies accumulating stocks and buying more inputs for the first time in recent months.
The median forecast in a Reuters poll of economists had been for a fall to 47.0.
Britain's economy grew strongly in the first three months of 2019 when factories rushed to stock up on parts and finished goods rather than face the risk of border disruptions after March 29, the original Brexit deadline.
The date of Britain's departure from the European Union was subsequently delayed until the end of October.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will make sure Brexit happens on 31 October. But lawmakers have approved a law requiring him to seek a new delay, if London and Brussels have not renegotiated a transition deal in time.
Markit said only consumer goods makers saw growth in September while investment goods were hard hit by uncertainty about the economy, which has been affected by the global slowdown as well as the lack of clarity about Brexit.
Staffing levels fell at the fastest pace since February 2013, it said.