British Banks Flee as French Ratings Downgrade Looms; ...but Finance Minister Says It's Still Better to Be French

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Byline: Russell Lynch

SHOCK figures today revealed fearful UK banks have pulled tens of billions of pounds out of the struggling French economy in fear of a looming credit rating downgrade.

The figures emerged as France fired the latest salvos in a bitter cross-Channel row with Britain.

Finance minister Francois Baroin exposed the rock-bottom relations between Paris and London as he followed central bank chief Christian Noyer's astonishing rant with a fresh swipe at the British economy.

He said: "The economic situation in Britain today is very worrying, and you'd rather be French than British in economic terms."

Noyer's attack, virtually unprecedented for a senior central banker, called on rating agencies to strip the UK of its prized triple-A credit rating this week.

France is clinging to its gilt-edged status by the slenderest of threads as financial market worries grow over the exposure of its fragile banking system to Europe's sovereign rows.

France's plight was underlined by new figures from the Bank of England which showed Britain's banks slashing their exposure to French public debt by $29.3 billion ([pounds sterling]18.9 billion) between July and September.

The exodus from France accounted for almost half the $62.4 billion British banks shaved from their financial exposure to the rest of the world in the third quarter, when Europe's sovereign debt crisis entered a dangerous new phase. …