Inequality, lack of education behind Brexit - bank chief

  • 04/07/2016
Tidjane Thiam (Reuters)
Tidjane Thiam (Reuters)

Britain is paying the price for a high level of inequality and a chronic lack of investment in education which prompted a disillusioned population to vote to leave the European Union, Credit Suisse chief executive Tidjane Thiam says.

Britain voted in a referendum on June 23 to quit the EU, a decision that has roiled financial markets and rattled businesses.

Mr Thiam, the former head of British insurer Prudential, said on Sunday he had lived almost 15 years in Britain and had been shocked to be told on a visit to a school in Tower Hamlets, a London borough near the city's financial district, that about half of children there only ate once a day.

"That's something I had seen in Ivory Coast," Mr Thiam, a former Ivory Coast government minister, told a business conference in the south of France.

 Unexpectedly for a banker, he said Britain should adopt a more redistributive tax system even if that meant raising taxes, to make sure the losers of globalisation were not left feeling disenfranchised.

"I was watching the march in London on Saturday, which I welcome. But I would have liked to say to them: 'how many of you would accept to pay more taxes?'" he said.

"It's all well and good to have big signs and protest against the 'Leave' vote. But it would be another story if you started having a discussion about creating more solidarity."

Mr Thiam said those with the lowest educational attainment were more likely to back Brexit.

"That's the price paid for a chronic lack of investment in education," Mr Thiam said.

"Something must be done at the national level so there aren't so many people left behind that the result of a national, democratic vote gives a result which is bad for the country in the medium-term," he said.

Mr Thiam took up his new post as the head of Switzerland's second-biggest bank on July 1 last year.