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Jim Ratcliffe: a man disunited from reality

His team, Manchester United, won the FA Cup, but still face a tricky rebuild. Also difficult? His views on Brexit

A billboard near Old Trafford, Manchester United’s stadium, boasts an image of the club’s owner, Sir Jim Ratcliffe. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty

Last Saturday was a surprisingly good day for the Brexiteer businessman Sir Jim Ratcliffe, now part-owner of Manchester United. His team upset local rivals City to win the FA Cup.

Yet the celebrations didn’t last long. Ratcliffe seems certain to sack his victorious manager Erik Ten Hag after United ended their league season in eighth, their worst-ever finishing position in the Premier League era.

He will then have to hire a new manager while spending millions on a refit of Old Trafford, whose crumbling stands flooded with rainwater towards the end of a defeat to Arsenal in May.

Trying to revive United’s fortunes has given Ratcliffe an even bigger profile than he already had as a self-made multibillionaire who created a petrochemical empire, Ineos, and is branching out into car manufacturing. 

Whether this will turn out well for him is as debatable as his club’s future. Ratcliffe made headlines recently when he told club staff they could no longer work from home part-time. “If you don’t like it, please seek alternative employment,” he said.

Some staff complained that they had joined in the first place on the promise of hybrid work. Others pointed out that United’s London office did not have enough desk space should all employees come to work at once.

One of a few major businesspeople to back Leave in the referendum, Ratcliffe next shared a Brexit progress report with Sky News. His admission that quitting the EU “didn’t turn out how people anticipated” drew headlines, but what should have got more coverage was how he had the gall to comment in the first place.

Before the last election, Ratcliffe banged the drum for Britain. He said then: “We are an independent people. We are a very creative nation, hard-working… we don’t need Europe telling us how to manage our country.” 

But a year later, this proud patriot moved to Monaco, saving himself several billion pounds in tax in the process. Clearly, he doesn’t see this as an obstacle to pontificating about Britain’s problems, though – even the huge one that, as a member of the Leave campaign, he helped to cause.

The substance of what else he said about Brexit confirms that even if Ratcliffe believes he has the right to tell Britain what’s what, it really isn’t worth listening to him. He said Brexit was failing – but not because of the trade barriers it erected, or the dismal new trade deals, or because of the death of free movement to Europe for people less well-off than him, or even the 4-6% hit to the British economy.

Ratcliffe claims leaving the EU has failed because people only voted for it to get immigration down (well done then on his own noble attempt to reduce the population of the UK by one via moving to the most crowded country in the world). 

“Brexit was largely about immigration,” he said. “That was the biggest component of that vote. People were getting fed up with the influx (the size of) the city of Southampton coming in every year. Last year it was two times Southampton.

“No small island could cope with vast numbers of people coming into the UK… it just overburdens the National Health Service, the traffic service, the police, everybody.”

Yes, curse those immigrants, with their coughs and their cars and their crime! Think how great Britain would be without them – our nurses getting a well-earned rest, our roads empty, our coppers having a cuppa as crime becomes a distant memory. 

Ratcliffe is one of those people who believes that Britain has been designed to work with a population of 55-60 million and not a single person more, never mind the current 67m. “All the services break down as a consequence,” he said. “Nobody’s implemented that (controlling immigration) and that’s why we’ll end up with a change of government.”

No mention of under-investment, lousy housing policy, cancelled high-speed rail lines and underspending on the NHS. It is those pesky foreigners’ fault. No mention, either, of the proven positive economic impact of immigration. Or the migrants who propped up our NHS, universities and hospitality sector, all now in crisis.

This is a common theme among a certain sort of person – I was reminded of it the other day when the journalist Isabel Oakeshott, the partner of Reform leader Richard Tice, posted on Twitter a photo of a crowded train with a caption suggesting that this showed the country was full. Rather, it is a sign that the current government couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery.

Nigel Farage was at it too last weekend on Sky News. “Numbers on immigration need to be sensible otherwise everyone’s quality of life gets diminished,” he said “Diminished in every way because you can’t get a GP appointment. Because you can’t travel anywhere without traffic jams. Because getting on a housing ladder is impossible”.

But migrants are not to blame for these problems. And migration is not to blame for the fact that Brexit “didn’t turn out how people anticipated”.

Global Britain, higher growth, tariff-free trade, the NHS’s problems solved, no border down the Irish Sea – all of these “didn’t turn out how people anticipated” either. This is because it was all a fantasy of a golden age that never existed in the first place. 

Will Ratcliffe keep speaking up for Britain? He is a man who decided that what the world really needed was a replacement for the trusty old British Land Rover, and so he built one.

The Ineos Grenadier is a butch British bulldog of an off-roader, a true heir to the Land Rover, a Union Flag-covered reminder of empire, named after Ratcliffe’s favourite British pub. And Ratcliffe is an achiever, a doer, and a maker. As a result, the Grenadier is very, very proudly built in France. 

I suppose it is more of a metaphor than a motorcar. Poor old benighted, bureaucratic, Brussels-dominated Britain. It breaks free, and its second-wealthiest man leaves the country and builds his new car in France. 

I blame the immigrants myself. I wonder if Ratcliffe has shared his views on them with Kobbie Mainoo, scorer of United’s decisive goal at Wembley? 

His parents came here from Ghana.

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