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Business

Post-Brexit, Ineos embraces its Britishness

Big chemical firm moves businesses back to U.K., eyes entry into British car market

by Alex Scott
July 25, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 30

Credit: Ineos
Ratcliffe hopes to resurrect the Land Rover Defender, which ceased production earlier this year after more than 60 years.

Ineos, one of the world’s largest petrochemical makers, is rediscovering its Britishness in the wake of the Brexit vote. The firm is moving some of its business offices from Switzerland to the U.K. and is looking to restart production of that most British of cars, the Land Rover Defender.

The firm will shortly open new headquarters in London for subsidiaries including the polyvinyl chloride business Inovyn, its petrochemical activities in Scotland, its shipping and trading operations, and its oil and gas business Ineos Breagh.

Headquarters for other Ineos businesses will remain near Geneva. Nevertheless, the repatriation of some businesses is a strong signal from Jim Ratcliffe, the firm’s chairman and majority shareholder, that he has confidence in Britain following its decision to exit—or Brexit—the European Union.

Ineos was formed in 1998 through the acquisition of businesses from the U.K. firms BP and Imperial Chemical Industries. It moved to Switzerland in 2010 because of a tax dispute.

Ratcliffe’s confidence in the U.K. is also apparent in the company’s disclosure last week that it will apply for up to 30 U.K. fracking licenses with a view to beginning shale gas extraction within 18 months. The firm is also the first in the chemical sector to announce a major capital investment since the U.K. voted to Brexit, saying recently that it will spend millions of dollars to expand its ethyl acetate plant near Hull, England.

A pro-Brexiteer, Ratcliffe argued that the U.K. can avoid EU bureaucracy and prosper by signing a free-trade agreement with the EU, as Norway and Switzerland have.

Perhaps Ratcliffe’s most British of moves is to consider resurrecting the iconic Land Rover Defender, which ceased production earlier this year. It “can be upgraded to be the world’s best and most rugged off-roader,” he says. Ineos has commissioned a study to determine if the plan is feasible. The firm has also held exploratory talks with the brand’s owner, Jaguar Land Rover.

Ineos says it would look to partner with a car manufacturer on the project. Many of Ineos’s materials, including plastics, are used in cars.

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