LONDON – The Bank of England left interest rates unchanged at 0.5% at the first meeting of its Monetary Policy Committee in 2018, it was announced on Thursday. The MPC voted unanimously in favour of leaving rates unchanged, while the bank’s quantitative easing programme also remained unchanged, with a cap of £435 billion on its asset purchases. While the lack of policy change was widely expected, the meeting remained crucial as it gives the bank an opportunity to set either a dovish or hawkish tone for its policies as 2018 progresses. Markets currently expect at least one, and possibly two, interest rate increases. After hiking rates for the first time in a decade last year, the Bank spent much of the rest of the year signalling that it will likely raise rates further in 2018. The market expects those hikes to come towards the end of the year, with either August or November seen as the most likely times prior to Thursday’s meeting. But with the economy’s future direction uncertain due to Brexit and other headwinds, the Bank could be forced to reconsider raising rates at all. At 12.30 p.m. GMT (7.30 a.m. ET) BoE Governor Mark Carney will give a press conference explaining the bank’s rationale for its policy decisions. Carney will also discuss the latest Inflation Report, which provides an update to its economic forecasts. More follows … Site highlights each day to your inbox. Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.