May's govt suffers first ministerial resignation

Lord O'Neill had reportedly threatened to quit in July after Mrs May announced a review of plans to go ahead with the Hinkley Point nuclear plant, a key Chinese investment in Britain's economy.
Lord O'Neill had reportedly threatened to quit in July after Mrs May announced a review of plans to go ahead with the Hinkley Point nuclear plant, a key Chinese investment in Britain's economy.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Lord O'Neill, linked to Cameron policies, quits as junior Treasury minister

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May's government suffered its first resignation yesterday, when a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, closely associated with the policies of her predecessor David Cameron, quit.

Lord Jim O'Neill, who had worked on boosting Chinese investment in Britain and a flagship project to improve infrastructure in northern England, stepped down as a junior Treasury minister.

He had reportedly threatened to quit in July after Mrs May announced a review of whether to go ahead with the Hinkley Point nuclear plant, a key Chinese investment in Britain's economy. Mrs May subsequently endorsed the project.

The 59-year-old is best known for coining the Bric investing strategy in 2001, binding Brazil, Russia, India and China into a group of increasingly influential economies.

A high-profile appointment to Mr Cameron's government, he was elevated last year 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 to Mrs May released yesterday, 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 UK commission on that topic.

Lord O'Neill, 59, is best known for coining the Bric investing strategy in 2001, binding Brazil, Russia, India and China into a group of increasingly influential economies.

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said that the country plans to trigger Article 50, the formal process for leaving the European Union (EU), early next year.

"We are talking to our European friends and partners in the expectation that, by the early part of next year, you will see an Article 50 letter. We will invoke that," he told Britain's Sky News television in New York on Thursday.

However, Downing Street distanced itself from Mr Johnson's comments.

"The government's position has not changed: We will not trigger Article 50 before the end of 2016 and we are using this time to prepare for the negotiations," a spokesman said.

Mrs May previously had only said that Britain would not trigger Article 50 before the end of this year. Doing so would mark the formal start of a two-year negotiation period for Britain to leave the EU, following its referendum vote in June to pull out of the 28-nation bloc.

In New York, where he was attending the United Nations summit, Mr Johnson said that he did not think the negotiations would need the full two years to be completed.

He also hit out at suggestions that Britain would have to continue to allow free movement of people with the EU if it wanted to maintain access to the European single market.

"They would have us believe that there is some automatic trade-off between... access to the single market and free movement. Complete baloney. Absolute baloney.

"The two things have nothing to do with each other. We should go for a jumbo free trade deal and take back control of our immigration policy," he said.

And he insisted that even after Brexit, Britain would still play a role in pan-European defence and security matters.

"We will continue to be a participant in common European defence discussions (such as on) security, foreign policy, counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing," said Mr Johnson.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2016, with the headline 'May's govt suffers first ministerial resignation'. Print Edition | Subscribe