Ex-Goldman Sachs Economist O’Neill Quits U.K. Government

  • O’Neill, who coined BRIC strategy, hired as minister in 2015
  • Resignation follows reported disappointment on China policy

Former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economist Jim O’Neill resigned from the U.K. government, weeks after newspaper reports suggested he was disappointed with Prime Minister Theresa May’s policy toward China.

In a letter to May released on Friday, O’Neill said he joined the government in 2015 to help improve the economy of northern England and to boost ties with emerging markets such as China. The Manchester native is best known for coining the BRIC investing strategy in 2001, binding Brazil, Russia, India and China into a group of increasingly influential economies.

“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,” O’Neill wrote to the premier.

The Financial Times reported in July that O’Neill was threatening to quit as the U.K. Treasury’s commercial secretary because he was irritated by May’s decision to postpone approval of a deal with China to build Britain’s first atomic plant in 20 years. May subsequently endorsed the Hinkley Point project.

Elevated to Lords

O’Neill, 59, was a high-profile appointment to former Prime Minister David Cameron’s government and he was elevated to the House of Lords, the unelected upper chamber of Parliament. He will stay in the Lords, but no longer as a member of the ruling Conservative Party.

In his letter, he tied the timing of his departure to this week’s United Nations agreement to find ways to offset resistance to antibiotics. He had chaired a U.K. commission on that topic.

May thanked O’Neill by letter and praised him for his work on China and promoting the north by saying he had “laid important foundations in these areas and the government will build on them.”

A lifelong fan of Manchester United football club, O’Neill joined Goldman Sachs in 1995, becoming head of economics in 2001 and then chairman of its asset-management arm in 2010 before stepping down in 2013. He was seen as a potential candidate to replace Mervyn King as governor of the Bank of England in 2012 although he subsequently said he didn’t apply.

Ties between Goldman Sachs and governments have been in the news lately after the bank’s hiring of former European Commission President Jose Barroso drew criticism from his successor, Jean-Claude Juncker, and French President Francois Hollande.

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