UK 'could be world's richest country', Osborne claims

Emma Woollacott

Britain could be the world's richest country by 2030, George Osborne has claimed - ahead even of the US.

As he pushed last night for austerity measures to continue, Osborne said his policies meant the UK could become the wealthiest major economy.

"If we are willing to take on the vested interests and pursue the right policies with consistency and discipline, then there are no limits to what Britain can achieve," he said.

"There is no reason why Britain cannot be the richest major economy in the world."

While his remark raised eyebrows, the Treasury clarified that he was referring to GDP per head. Even by that measure, though, the UK currently trails behind the US, Canada and Germany.

Osborne conceded that overtaking these nations wouldn't be easy, but said "I believe we should set our expectations high."

Speaking to the Royal Economic Society in London, Osborne rejected claims that any economic recovery was only benefiting the few.

"Pessimism has been fashionable in recent years, whether it's predictions of secular stagnation or claims that the proceeds of growth would only go to the richest," he said.

"The problem for the pessimists is that the evidence and experience of the last few years increasingly don't support their claims. Instead the case for optimism is strengthening."

Osborne said that when the coalition took power, the budget deficit had been running at 10% of GDP, with unemployment at 8%. Since then, though, its policies have reduced the budget deficit to 5%, he claimed.

In his speech, Osborne also set out plans to force all future governments to operate an overall budget surplus, collecting more revenue than they spend every year. The new rule would come in during the financial year 2017-18.

A budget deficit, he said, would only be permitted when Treasury watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, ruled that the economic climate was not "normal".

But a Lib Dem spokesman has told the Daily Mail that Osborne's plan leaves little hope for the poor.

"Once the books are balanced, the Tory plan to run a surplus means they will embark on years of cuts to our public services. That will damage public services and damage the life chances of those who depend on them," he said.

"There should be light at the end of the tunnel once the deficit is eliminated. Osborne's plans confirm the Tories want to turn that light off. Life under a Tory majority government will be grim indeed for all but the best off."

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