· Government statistician admits UK is £56bn in red
· Figures have deteriorated every year since 1997
Crowning the worst year for the trade deficit since figures for imports and exports were first collected in Stuart times, the government admitted yesterday that Britain was just under £56bn in the red in 2006.
Data from the Office for National Statistics showed that under Tony Blair, Britain’s trading performance has been worse than under any of his Labour predecessors. Worse than under Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson, both of whom had to devalue the pound when the trade figures turned nasty, and worse than under James Callaghan, who was forced to seek help from the International Monetary Fund amid the sterling crisis of 1976.
More worryingly, the data showed that the trade deficit has been deteriorating steadily under the present government, with Labour inheriting a surplus of £1.8bn – or 0.2% of gross domestic product in goods and services – in 1997, the year it came to power. It was the only time the country has been in the black in the past two decades.