G20 summit: UK officials bullish about reputation on growth

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Britain is moving out of the European economic slow lane and is being ranked alongside the US in terms of growth, bullish UK officials claimed ahead of the G20 summit in St Petersburg.

With Britain’s foreign policy in turmoil after David Cameron’s Commons defeat over Syria intervention last week, the prime minister and George Osborne, chancellor, hope the UK’s recent growth spurt might help confer some G20 credibility.

British officials claimed this week that the UK would be “particularly singled out” at the G20 summit for the way it had pulled back from an economic precipice and that it was now seen as potential engine for global growth.

“We have moved from being seen as a country in a broader European economic bucket, to one seen as being ranked alongside the US in terms of economic performance,” said one official.

Privately, Mr Osborne and Mr Cameron were congratulating themselves that for once the UK would not be seen as an impediment to the global recovery – three years after they attended the Toronto G20 when the country was threatened by huge debts.

Mr Osborne has been encouraged by OECD forecasts this week showing that Britain was ranked alongside Canada, and just ahead of the US and Japan, in terms of growth potential for the second half of 2013.

The chancellor knows, however, that the government risks sounding hubristic – Britain’s economy is smaller than at the time of the 2008 crash – and admitted there were global risks that could blow the recovery off course.

Chief among those is the instability in some emerging markets, as the US starts to withdraw its massive monetary stimulus.

Britain is trying to ensure the G20 retains its commitment to free trade, in spite of protectionist signals coming from some members, including Argentina. “We are still in the early stages of recovery,” Mr Osborne told reporters en route to St Petersburg. “We still have great economic challenges.

“I arrive at this summit as the finance minister with pretty much the highest budget deficit around the table, even though it has come down by a third.

“I think the British people are realistic that Britain is on the mend but that it is going to take a long time.”

The UK’s rejection of military action in Syria has left Mr Cameron marginalised on the topic dominating the gathering of the world’s 20 biggest economies.

However, Mr Cameron is still urging the US to punish the Assad regime for the apparent use of chemical weapons in eastern Damascus last month. British officials confirmed that UK tests had found traces of sarin gas in clothes and soil samples taken from the area of the attack.

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