Britain's monthly trade deficit widened in December, as the UK recorded its largest annual trade gap on record.

The Office for National Statistics said Britain's goods trade gap grew to £7.142 billion in December, from £6.871 billion the previous month, and larger than economists' forecasts for a deficit of £6.9 billion pounds.

December's figures contributed to the largest annual trade deficit since records began in 1697, with the total trade gap for 2006 widening to £55.8 billion pounds in 2006, from £44.6 billion in 2005.

The goods trade gap with non-EU countries narrowed slightly to a £4.30 billion deficit, from £4.35 billion in November, just below forecasts.

Economists say Britain's trade figures are heavily distorted by the effects of VAT fraud and are an unreliable indicator of what is happening in the economy.