After months of doubt, Brexit is indeed effective on January 31. One of the richest men in the UK, Jim Ratcliffe, is a big advocate. Portrait of the petrochemical billionaire and his company.
The richest are concentrating more and more wealth in their hands as inequalities increase. The Multinationals Observatory looks at what lies behind the golden legends of European billionaires. How did they build their fortune? What is their influence on politics? Focus on British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, who has been a staunch supporter of Brexit. A contribution from the British organization Corporate Watch.
He is at the head of a fortune of more than ten billion euros according to Forbes. Jim Ratcliffe, in the top quartet of the richest Britons, is the owner of the Nice football club in France and of the Swiss club Lausanne sport. Above all, he is the founder, chairman and majority shareholder of petrochemical giant Ineos. The man first worked at Esso before joining London Business School, then co-found a company called Inspec. It bought the chemical division of BP (British Petroleum) in 1992. The company was renamed Ineos six years later.
More and more gas and oil installations
Between 1998 and 2008, Ineos acquired 22 companies, including a subsidiary of BP, which owns the Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland. In 2014, the group announced an investment of 746 million euros in prospecting for shale gas in the United Kingdom, the extraction of which requires the use of highly polluting fracking techniques, with the intention of using it to its chemical factories. Four years later, the company announces its plan to create six new companies in the oil and gas sector, following the acquisition of production units from Chinese Dong Energy and facilities in the North Sea. , including a pipeline.
In 2019, the group still decides to invest 1.8 billion euros in a petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia, at the same time as major investors are withdrawing from the Saudi kingdom following the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. . Despite some recent forays into other sectors, the overwhelming majority of Ineos’ operations are based on the refining and processing of petroleum-derived chemicals to supply a wide range of markets (fuels, pharmaceuticals, agri-food, construction, Agriculture).
“I came, I bought, I conquered”
Ratcliffe controls Ineos through a holding company, in which it owns 60% of the shares. The rest are held, in equal parts, by his longtime lieutenants, John Reece and Andrew Currie. The company paid them 194 million euros in dividends in 2018. The same year, Ratcliffe was elevated to the rank of knight by the Queen of England … before moving to Monaco for tax reasons . Already in 2010, following the British government’s refusal to reduce Ineos’ tax burden, Ratcliffe moved his company to Switzerland.
In 2019, for the twentieth anniversary of his company, Ratcliffe wanted to create a coat of arms for Ineos. He decided to put the Latin phrase there «Veni emi vici», for “I came, I bought, I conquered”. Or could add to it “I happily polluted”. Because Ineos’ operations around the world represent a huge source of carbon emissions, with millions of tonnes of CO2 each year.
Its factories also emit thousands of tons of nitrogen and sulfur oxides and are a source of other pollutants such as ammonia, benzene and hydrogen cyanide. Accidents at company sites include serious explosions, fires and leaks. Its site in Cologne (Germany), for example, experienced a series of serious incidents, including ammonia leaks, explosions and a fire in 2018, with flames several tens of meters high.
At the forefront to exploit shale gas in Great Britain
Importantly, the Ratcliffe company has been at the center of attempts to develop the exploitation of shale gas by “fracking” (a technique of fracturing rock) in the United Kingdom. The company is the majority holder of the UK fracking licenses . This dominant position has been fostered by the slackening of politicians between industry and government. Patrick Erwin, a former senior official in the Government’s Housing and Local Communities Department, was seconded from his post to join Ineos in 2013. He then helped the company obtain a large number of licenses for the extraction of shale gas .
Ineos also called for a relaxation of the rules on earthquakes caused by earthquake operations. fracking. The billionaire called these regulations“Inapplicable”, and accused the government of provoking a “Energy crisis” and cause “Irreparable damage” to the British economy . Ratcliffe says he wants to extract gas from shale in Britain to provide cheap energy to the people. In fact, in addition to profiting from the sale of gas, Ineos would first use this energy for its own chemical plants. Currently, the company imports shale gas from the United States. Producing it in the United Kingdom would therefore obviously reduce its costs considerably.
Defender of European environmental regulations and defender of Brexit
Jim Ratcliffe has been a strong supporter of Brexit. “We are an island, we are an independent people. We are a very creative, hard working nation. We can prosper as an independent nation, we don’t need people in Europe to tell us how to run our country ”, he said in May 2019 . Many suspect that his enthusiasm for Brexit is mainly aimed at avoiding European environmental regulations. Documents revealed in 2017 show that Ineos had lobbied, as part of the British chemical industry group “Partnership for the growth of chemistry”, to be exempted from the climate tax and to abolish the carbon floor price . “Ineos urges the British government to use Brexit as an opportunity to exempt the chemical sector from all the costs of climate policy”, then explained the Guardian .
Later, in October 2018, Ineos wrote to the UK Secretary of State for Energy and Industrial Strategy, threatening to shut down its Middlesbrough plant if the site did not escape EU regulations on pollution. In early 2019, Jim Ratcliffe sent an open letter directly to the President of the European Commission. . He attacked there “Green taxes” that he judged “Stupid at best”, and believed that the European Union had “The world’s most expensive energy and labor laws”. The wealthy boss of Ineos may therefore have reasons other than patriotic to celebrate the implementation of Brexit on January 31.
Fortune: 10 billion euros
This survey is the result of a collaboration between the Observatory of Multinationals and European organizations and media within the framework of the ENCO network (European Network of Corporate Observatories), European Observatory of Multinationals.
Image de Une : CC Foreign and Commonwealth Office via flick.