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A sharp drop in manufacturing has left Britain’s economy trailing Germany and France as growth in industrial output dropped to the slowest in almost seven years in December.

Output declined by 0.6 per cent last month, which is the largest drop since October 2009, according to the Office for National Statistics, while the annual growth rate was just 0.6 per cent, compared with 1.2 per cent in November.

Economists had been forecasting an improvement in the sector after robust manufacturing data earlier in the year and the strongest rate of job creation in 25 years in 2017.

Exports from the UK manufacturing sector fell by 3.6 per cent in December, accounting for most of the 0.7 per cent drop in overall output from the sector and prompting concerns about the country’s £146bn total trade deficit, which for October had been revised down to £46.8bn.

Industrial production fell 2.8 per cent last year, the ONS said, worse than a 2.4 per cent decline in 2017, as Brexit-related uncertainty has weighed on the sector.

“The strength of sterling put downward pressure on the UK manufacturing sector in 2018 due to strong demand from the euro zone. The subsequent fall in the value of sterling has provided a boost for exporters, but confidence is again likely to be fragile and the sector will remain reliant on global trade flows to build momentum,” said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit.

The overall decrease in industrial production, however, was partly offset by an upward revision of growth in November to 0.3 per cent from 0.2 per cent, which was spurred by a strong performance from the construction sector. On a year earlier, industrial production was flat in December.

Other sectors of Britain’s manufacturing sector such as transportation equipment, electronics and textiles also contracted last month.

Retailers had also been expecting a slowdown from strong Christmas trading, the Confederation of British Industry warned on Wednesday, although car-makers had posted some of the best growth in more than five years.

On the whole, Britain’s industrial sector is not performing as strongly as the rest of the economy after the country’s vote to leave the European Union last year.