Nouveau riche: Britain is wealthier than France

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The Independent Online

They won the beef war, the last football World Cup and the Battle of Hastings, but now the French have finally met their economic Waterloo.

They won the beef war, the last football World Cup and the Battle of Hastings, but now the French have finally met their economic Waterloo.

The collapse of the euro in the past few weeks, economists believe, has seen Britain quietly (but convincingly) overtake France as the fourth-richest nation.

Now even Germany's economic powerhouse could be within our sights on current trends in the next 20 or 30 years.

Closing the wealth gap with our Gallic cousins was an impossible dream in the 1970s and early 1980s when our outdated and strike-riven industries seemed close to collapse.

With a resurgent manufacturing base after the war, "les francais" have been conspicuously better off than "les rosbifs" since the 1950s.

But since then our hi-tech, drugs, financial and chemical industries have slowly boosted Britain's standing in the world, including in rich countries' clubs such as the G7 where Britain was until now thought to have peaked at fifth place.

"It cannot be long now before Britain is officially named as the fourth-largest economy in the world," said Roger Bootle of the independent consultancy Capital Economics.

Fresh data he has just compiled from the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - based on the latest 1999 figures - reveal how the British resurgence is not just a matter of a strong pound.

After equalising prices in the three countries, by adopting an artificial exchange rate known as purchasing power parity, Britain is still significantly ahead at $1.321 trillion compared to $1.306 trillion for France and $1.269 trillion for Italy.

"These figures are very significant both for national confidence and for our attitude to the euro," Mr Bootle said.

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