Man Utd co-owner who backed Brexit says it ‘didn’t turn out as people anticipated’

Business

Billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe has told Sky News that Britain is ready for a change of government after scolding the Conservatives over their handling of the economy and immigration after Brexit.

While insisting his petrochemicals conglomerate INEOS is apolitical, Sir Jim backed Brexit and spent last weekend with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at Manchester United – the football club he now runs as minority owner.

“I’m sure Keir will do a very good job at running the country – I have no questions about that,” Sir Jim said in an exclusive interview.

“There’s no question that the Conservatives have had a good run,” he added. “I think most of the country probably feels it’s time for a change. And I sort of get that, really.”

Read more: Sir Jim’s mission to succeed at ‘the one challenge the UK has never brought home’

Sir Jim was a prominent backer of leaving the European Union in the 2016 referendum but now has issues with how Brexit was delivered by Tory prime ministers.

“Brexit sort of unfortunately didn’t turn out as people anticipated because… Brexit was largely about immigration,” Sir Jim said.

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“That was the biggest component of that vote. People were getting fed up with the influx of the city of Southampton coming in every year. I think last year it was two times Southampton.

“I mean, no small island like the UK could cope with vast numbers of people coming into the UK.

“I mean, it just overburdens the National Health Service, the traffic service, the police, everybody.

“The country was designed for 55 or 60 million people and we’ve got 70 million people and all the services break down as a consequence.

“That’s what Brexit was all about and nobody’s implemented that. They just keep talking about it. But nothing’s been done, which is why I think we’ll finish up with the change of government.”

Watch Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s full interview on the Trevor Phillips on Sunday morning programme on Sky News from 8.30am

UK needs to get ‘sharper on the business front’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has indicated an election is due this year but Monaco-based Sir Jim is unimpressed by the Conservatives’ handling of the economy.

“The UK does need to get a bit sharper on the business front,” he said. “I think the biggest objective for the government is to create growth in the economy.

“There’s two parts of the economy, there’s the services side of the economy and there’s the manufacturing side. And the manufacturing, unfortunately, has been sliding away now for the last 25 years.

“We were very similar in scale to Germany probably 25 years ago.

“But today we’re just a fraction of where Germany is and I think that isn’t healthy for the British economy… particularly when you think the north of England is very manufacturing based, and that talks to things like energy competitiveness, it talks to things like, why do you put an immensely high tax on the North Sea?

“That just disincentivises people from finding hydrocarbons in the North Sea, in energy.

“And what we need is competitive energy. So I mean, in America, in the energy world, in the oil and gas world, they just apply a corporation tax to the oil and gas companies, which is about 30%. And in the UK we’ve got this tax of 75% because we want to kill off the oil and gas companies.

“But if we don’t have competitive energy, we’re not going to have a healthy manufacturing industry. And that just makes no sense to me at all. No.”

‘We’re apolitical’

Asked about INEOS donating to Labour, Sir Jim replied: “We’re apolitical, INEOS.

“We just want a successful manufacturing sector in the UK and we’ve talked to the government about that. It’s pretty clear about our views.”

Sir Jim was keener to talk about the economy and politics than his role at struggling Manchester United, which he bought a 27.7% stake in from the American Glazer family in February – giving him an even higher business profile.

Old Trafford stadium in Manchester. Pic: AP
Image:
Old Trafford stadium in Manchester. Pic: AP

Push for stadium of the North

He is continuing to push for public funds to regenerate Old Trafford and the surrounding areas despite no apparent political support being forthcoming. Sir Keir was hosted at the stadium for a Premier League match last weekend just as heavy rain exposed the fragility of the ageing venue.

“There’s a very good case, in my view, for having a stadium of the North, which would serve the northern part of the country in that arena of football,” Sir Jim said. “If you look at the number of Champions League the North West has won, it’s 10. London has won two.

“And yet everybody from the North has to get down to London to watch a big football match. And there should be one [a large stadium] in the North, in my view.

“But it’s also important for the southern side of Manchester, you know, to regenerate.

“It’s the sort of second capital of the country where the Industrial Revolution began.

“But if you have a regeneration project, you need a nucleus or a regeneration project and having that world-class stadium there, I think would provide the impetus to regenerate that region.”

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