Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who has a personal fortune of £18billion and who owns 60 per cent of the largest privately-owned company in the world, says a country led by Corbyn’s Labour party is “unthinkable”. Sir Jim, 66, says his company, Ineos, is patriotic but “not dumb”. He says: “We’re Brits, we like the UK, but a Marxist government would certainly not encourage us to invest. “I have great faith in the British public that we will not go down that road. It clearly is a possibility, unthinkable, but we have to think about it. It’s not a place I want to go.” However, he predicts Britain will benefit from Brexit: “We are an island, we are an independent people. We are a very creative nation, hard-working. We can thrive as an independent nation, we don’t need people in Europe telling us how to manage our country. I have no problem with the common market but I don’t think the United States of Europe is a viable concept.”
But he was astonished at how the Government was mishandling our EU exit. “If these guys were trying to do a chemicals deal it would be an absolute catastrophe,” he says damningly. “It’s not complicated.”
Sir Jim, Britain’s richest man last year and still No 3 on the Sunday Times Rich List, came from modest roots in Greater Manchester. “I came from a working class family and my grammar school was a way for me to compete with middle and upper class families,” he says.
He graduated from the University of Birmingham in chemical engineering and joined Esso, then gained business experience at a US private equity group.
His big break was forming Ineos to buy unwanted petrochemical operations from BP, ICI and others, building up a company that employs 19,000 people in 24 countries and generates annual sales of almost £50billion with profits of £4.7-5.5billion.
His expertise in the field makes him a keen supporter of fracking.
He points towards the shale gas revolution in America as a success story and warns that British politicians are being shortsighted about its potential.
The US is enjoying economic growth of 3.2 per cent compared to 0.5 per cent. Sir Jim says the shale gas industry has given the country enormous quantities of cheap energy, making President Trump’s America energy selfsufficient and enabling it to side-step dependency on the Middle East or Russia.
The UK is in danger of turning its back on this potential resource, he says: “It’s like the Luddites again. It’s ludicrous that we’ve got a government that is managing the country’s energy strategy on the basis of a miniscule minority of objectors, most of whom are frankly ignorant about what shale gas is about.”
The Government’s fracking tsar, Natascha Engel, resigned recently after only six months in the job because she felt UK rules were impossibly stringent, pampering environmental protesters.
“All we’re trying to do is the science, drill holes and see what’s down there – that’s been like pulling teeth in the UK,” says Sir Jim.
“There is a lot of shale down there and it’s extremely productive shale. It would make us strategically less vulnerable to the outside world.Why wouldn’t you go down that road?” America has drilled well over a million wells.
“In the North Sea we’ve been fracking wells for 50 or 60 years. Fracking is not a new thing. It just loosens the rock a bit so the oil and gas can percolate. You’re just taking three or four per cent out of the ground – you can’t detect the difference between a piece of shale rock when the hydrocarbons are in or out of it. It doesn’t leave a hole in the ground that’s going to collapse.
“The US has the lowest cost energy in the world bar Saudi Arabia, a half to a third of the UK, and it promotes investment in manufacturing and industry.
“In America they’re investing $200billion building new chemical facilities, which is creating swathes of employment. All we’ve done in the last 30 years is close chemical facilities down. If you want to promote manufacturing you have to think what encourages people to invest and low-cost energy is one.”
Sir Jim has spent £2.5billion keeping open four chemical facilities in the UK, including Grangemouth Refinery on the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh.
“We have a canvas which includes all corners of the globe and the North of England is on that canvas but we are rational people and we have not got to where we are today by being the dumb money.”