Blue chip shares held steady in afternoon trading despite signs that the strong run manufacturing has enjoyed since the Brexit vote is losing momentum.

UK manufacturing production posted a 54.2 reading last month, compared to 54.5 in February, according to the closely watched Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers' Index. Economists had expected the figure to rise to 55.0.

The FTSE 100 Index edged 2.1 points lower to 7321, as factories in the survey reported the rate of domestic new business wins and export growth had slowed at the end of the first quarter of the year.

Spreadex financial analyst Connor Campbell pointed out: "the worry is the slowdown seen in the last couple of months could speed up during the second quarter of the year".

In the top flight, BP was one of the strongest risers after the oil major agreed to sell the Forties Pipeline System and its associated facilities to petrochemicals firm Ineos, owned by tycoon Jim Ratcliffe, in a deal worth $250m (£200m).

The pipeline, which came onstream from the North Sea's Forties field in 1975, transports 450,000 barrels per day of crude, which amounts to 40% of the UK production.

The biggest afternoon risers in the FTSE 100 Index were Micro Focus International (+48p to 2326p), Mondi (+34p to 1961p), BP (+4.8p to 462.4p), GKN (+3.6p to 367p) and London Stock Exchange (+30p to 3201p).

The biggest afternoon fallers in the FTSE 100 Index were Next (-126p to 4194p), ITV (-5.7p to 213.2p), Land Securities (-18p to 1041p), Fresnillo (-25p to 1531p) and Paddy Power Betfair (-110p to 8490p).

The biggest afternoon risers in the FTSE 250 Index were WS Atkins (+443p to 1983p), Evraz (+9p to 225.3p), RPC Group (+20.5p to 802p), Spirax-Sarco Engineering (+97p to 4866p) and ZPG (+7.2p to 370.2p).

The biggest afternoon fallers in the FTSE 250 Index were Allied Minds (-23.2p to 281.5p), Nostrum Oil & Gas (-13.1p to 472p), JRP Group (-3.4p to 128.1p), Dixons Carphone (-8p to 309.6p) and GVC Holdings (-16p to 717.5p).