British Brexiter billionaire ditches Wales to build 4×4 in France

#Brexit special section Economy

The UK’s richest man and prominent Brexiter Sir Jim Ratcliffe has scrapped plans to manufacture his new 4×4 vehicle in Wales, choosing instead a former Mercedes-Benz factory in France.

Ratcliffe’s Ineos company will build its Grenadier vehicle – described as the “British” successor to the iconic Land Rover Defender – after receiving  “a unique opportunity that we simply could not ignore” from the Hambach factory in France.

Choosing France is a huge blow for British industry and for Bridgend in Wales in particular. Just last year the town celebrated when Ineos’ announced its plans to build its new 4×4 and create 500 jobs, with Ratcliffe commenting in September 2019: “The decision to build in the UK is a significant expression of confidence in British manufacturing, which has always been at the heart of what Ineos stands for.”

Fast forward 15 months and Bridgend is dealing with another huge blow with Ineos’ decision following the closure of the Ford engine plant in the town In September, marking the end of 40 years and the cost of 1,700 jobs.

‘Brexit is clearly a major factor at play’, says Bridgend’s MP

Conversely, the purchase of the former Mercedes-Benz Hambach factory secures around 1,300 jobs at the site and its suppliers on the France-Germany border.

“Building the vehicle in Britain was always our intention and the plan was fully costed and deliverable,” tweeted Ineos Grenadier. “Of course, we understand there will be disappointment in the UK. But the business case for Hambach was overwhelming…”

Bridgend’s Labour MP Chris Elmore called the choice of Hambach “a crushing disappointment”, adding: “The highly-skilled and dedicated workforce in Ogmore, Bridgend and surrounding areas would have risen to the challenge. Today’s news is a hammer blow.

“That Brexit is clearly a major factor at play is a bitter pill to swallow. Ineos owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe was a vocal Brexiteer, loudly proclaiming the benefits of leaving the EU. Today, we can see his claims are as hollow as his promises.”

In the 2016 EU referendum 54.6% of voters in Bridgend voted Leave, while 45.5% voted Remain.

‘Better access to supply chain, talent and markets’

Ratcliffe said the opportunity “to buy a modern automotive manufacturing facility with a world-class workforce” was one “we simply could not ignore” given its proximity to the German border and access to supply chains and markets.

The company will begin making cars at Hamback late next year and Dirk Heilmann, the chief executive of Ineos Automotive said the purchase of the factory was “the biggest milestone yet” in the development of the car.

“Hambach is a state-of-the-art facility and has an existing highly skilled automotive workforce,” the company tweeted. “It is strategically located to provide better access to the supply chain, automotive talent and target markets.”

Ratcliffe’s fortune is estimated to be £12.5 billion and he is called Britain’s richest man even though he has become a tax-exile living in Monaco.

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