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23 September 2016

George Osborne’s star hire Jim O’Neill quits the Treasury

The former Goldman Sachs economist was an advocate of the Northern Powerhouse. 

By Julia Rampen

Jim O’Neill, an influential economist, has resigned from his role as commercial Secretary to the Treasury.

O’Neill, also known as Lord O’Neill of Gatley, was hired by George Osborne after the 2015 election. 

A longstanding Goldman Sachs economist, who coined the acronym Brics to describe the emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, he embodied the internationally-minded world of high finance. 

After Osborne was sacked by Theresa May in July, O’Neill became a lone voice for Osbornomics.

He demanded the continuation of Osborne’s treasured “Northern Powerhouse” project, and was reportedly a critic of the May Government’s approach to China during its reconsideration of the Hinkley Point nuclear plant plan. 

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In July a friend of O’Neill told the FT bluntly: “He’s considering why he has been asked to stay.”

O’Neill’s departure marks another shift away from the easy relationship the previous Government enjoyed with the City, and its focus on becoming a global headquarters for banks and other financial institutions.

Osborne in particular had prioritised the relationship with China, introducing legislation that eased operations for Chinese banks in the UK and encouraging Chinese investment.

Jon Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister without Portfolio, described O’Neill’s resignation as a blow for May: “A much respected minister has not only walked out on her after just three months, but even more damning, has abandoned the Tory party altogether over her divisive lurch to the right in attempting to bring back grammar schools. If Theresa May had any sense she would ditch this regressive policy now. 

“What’s more, his reported concerns over Hinkley and the Northern Powerhouse is yet more evidence of a Prime Minister whose basic competence is more and more being called into question.”