Ineos owner Jim Ratcliffe accuses UK regulator of being ‘hostile to business’

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Sir Jim Ratcliffe, owner of chemicals giant Ineos, accused Britain’s competition regulator of becoming “increasingly hostile to business” after blocking purchases of assets sold by the Swiss group.

Ratcliffe said the Competition and Markets Authority’s decision to block the deal with Sika Switzerland earlier this year was “another example of terminating a deal that would have benefited the UK”.

“Add to this, the ridiculous North Sea windfall tax and persistently high energy costs and we are seeing a government pushing businesses out of the UK,” he said on Tuesday.

Ratcliffe, one of Britain’s richest men who is also in a race to buy football club Manchester United, is the latest to criticize what some executives see as the CMA’s increasingly aggressive stance. Video game maker Activision Blizzard branded the UK “closed for business” earlier this year after regulators blocked its acquisition by Microsoft.

CMA said estimates showed that over the past three years, it had saved consumers over £2 billion through its merger regulations and allowed UK businesses to enter new and growing markets.

“It is very important when agreeing on potential buyers that we don’t allow new competitive issues to develop. We note that Ineos is one of only three major suppliers of key products that Sika and its competitors rely on,” he added.

Ineos agreed in January to buy Sika’s concrete additives business which has $1 billion in sales. Swiss specialty chemicals group sold assets to ease CMA’s concerns stemming from its acquisition of MBCC Group, a construction chemicals supplier, for SFr5.5 billion ($6.1 billion), in November 2021.

Sika said in March that it had agreed with Ineos to cancel the deal after receiving “temporary negative feedback” from CMA due to competition concerns. Private equity firm Cinven acquired the assets in exchange.

Ratcliffe said the CMA had “built a reputation as an overly aggressive regulator with little regard for the impact its decisions could have on British business”.

He added: “His attitude is reflected in the lack of government support for manufacturing; either in reviews like this one, or in our non-competitive approach to energy policy.”

Ratcliffe’s ruling against the CMA is the latest in a series of scathing attacks on the British government and manufacturing states. He voted for the decision to raise taxes on North Sea oil and gas producers in an interview with the Financial Times in May, accusing the government of playing “primitive politics”.

One of Britain’s most successful post-war industrialists, Ratcliffe founded Ineos in 1998 with Andy Currie and John Reece. In its first 10 years, the company made more than 20 acquisitions, snatching away the disliked commodity business from companies like ICI, BP and BASF as these giants restructured.

Currently the group’s activities include oil and gas fields, refineries and chemical works. Ratcliffe’s business empire includes several consumer brands and sporting interests including football club OGC Nice, a stake in the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One racing team and the Grenadier 4×4 off-road vehicle.

Ratcliffe, the majority owner of Ineos, also made a bid to acquire Manchester United, one of the most famous football clubs in the world, from its American owners. The FT had previously reported that Ineos’ proposal was to acquire control of United from the Glazers but without making an offer to the New York-listed club’s minority shareholder.

However, the structure of Ratcliffe’s proposal has caught the attention of the club’s board and minority shareholders, according to people familiar with the matter. Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani, the son of one of Qatar’s wealthiest men, had proposed a full takeover and sweetened his bid in early June, but the process has dragged on since the Glazers first said last November they would consider a sale.

A deal would be Ratcliffe’s highest-profile acquisition in sport, adding to a collection of assets that includes renowned cycling team, French football club Nice and a third of the Mercedes F1 racing team. He previously failed in an attempt to acquire Chelsea FC.

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