Britain’s richest man, worth nearly US$28 billion, and keen Brexit supporter Jim Ratcliffe, has abandoned plans to build a new car in the UK, dealing another blow to a car industry that has already been battered by the country’s exit from the EU and the pandemic, CNN reports.
Ratcliffe is the founder of chemicals company Ineos which announced on Tuesday that its first vehicle, the Grenadier 4×4, will be manufactured at a plant it’s buying from Mercedes Benz in Hambach, France.
“Hambach presented us with a unique opportunity that we simply could not ignore: to buy a modern automotive manufacturing facility with a world-class workforce,” Ratcliffe said in a statement. The SUV, which is named after the London pub in which Ratcliffe conceived the idea, will enter production late next year.
The billionaire patriot had been planning to produce the SUV at a new plant in Bridgend, Wales, creating 500 jobs. Last year he said that his decision to base production in Wales was a “significant expression of confidence in British manufacturing”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson echoed that sentiment at the time, saying that manufacturing the Grenadier in Wales was “a vote of confidence in UK expertise” that would make sure “we keep our status as a pioneer in new vehicle technologies”.
The reversal is a major setback for Bridgend. Ford recently closed an engine plant in the South Wales town that had been in operation since 1977 and employed around 1,700 people.
A new plant would have been a rare opportunity for the UK car industry, which has been hobbled by years of uncertainty over Brexit.
If new trading arrangements are not agreed, cars made in the UK will face 10% tariffs when exported to the EU from Jan 1.
Another prominent Brexit supporting billionaire, James Dyson, moved the headquarters of his high-end appliances company from the UK to Singapore in 2019 because Asia offered the “largest and fastest growing market in the world”.