AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France (Reuters) - Britain is paying the price for a high level of inequality and a chronic lack of investment in education which have prompted a disillusioned population to vote to leave the European Union, Credit Suisse Chief Executive Tidjane Thiam said on Sunday.
Britain voted in a referendum on June 23 to quit the EU, a decision that has roiled financial markets and rattled businesses.
Thiam, the former head of British insurer Prudential, said 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,” Thiam, a former government minister in the West African country, 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 globalization 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.”
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,” 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.
Thiam took up his new post as the head of Switzerland’s second-biggest bank on July 1 last year.
Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Ros Russell