British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government today suffered its first major jolt when Treasury Minister Lord Jim O’Neill resigned amid speculation that he was unhappy with her policies on China.
O’Neill, a former Goldman Sachs chief economist who was brought in by former prime minister David Cameron, also resigned as the Conservative party whip. He did not give a reason for his departure but UK media reports indicate it was a result of growing tensions with May’s approach.
There had been growing speculation over Lord O’Neill’s resignation following a report in the ‘Financial Times’ in July that cited his unhappiness after May announced a shock review into the 18-billion-pound Hinkley Point project involving China.
“I primarily joined, however, for the specific purpose of helping deliver the northern powerhouse, and to help boost our economic ties with key growing economies around the world, especially China and India, and other rapidly emerging economies,” 59-year-old Lord O’Neill wrote in his resignation letter.
“The case for both to be at the heart of British economic policy is even stronger following the referendum, and I am pleased that, despite speculation to the contrary, both appear to be commanding your personal attention. I am leaving knowing that I can play some role supporting these critical initiatives as a non-governmental person,” he adds.
O’Neill is best known for coining the phrase “BRICS”, an acronym for the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa and was a close aide to Cameron.
He will now sit on the cross-benches of the House of Lords.
May said she was sorry about O’Neill’s resignation and thanked him for his service.
“You have made a significant contribution to driving forward the government’s work on delivering growth beyond the south-east through the northern powerhouse and on promoting stronger economic links with emerging economies, including China and India. You have laid important foundations in these areas, and the government will build on them,” she wrote.
“I would particularly like to pay tribute to your ground-breaking work on antimicrobial resistance.
You should take great pride in seeing your review culminate this week in the UN high level agreement.
“You have played a vital role in building global consensus on this important issue, which will have long-lasting benefits.”
Downing Street announced that Lord Young of Cookham will become the new Treasury spokesman in the House of Lords.