In Brief

Richard Branson under fire for Virgin government bailout request

Campaigners and politicians criticise request for assistance from company founded by billionaire entrepreneur

Virgin Group’s plea for a UK bailout of its airline Virgin Atlantic has been met with an outcry from campaigners and politicians. 

The company, which was founded by billionaire Richard Branson, is asking the UK government to give Virgin Atlantic airline a £500m bailout because of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. 

However, Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour party, tweeted: “Richard flog your private island and pay your staff, we are in unprecedented times here. Now is the time your staff need support after making mountains of cash for the company.”

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said it was unacceptable that “rich billionaires” are “milking the system” during a historic health crisis. 

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Luke Hildyard, of the High Pay Centre, said: “At a time when the government is struggling to fund the NHS and support low and middle income earners hit by the economic shutdown, it would be unthinkable to commit hundreds of millions of pounds to an effective bailout for billionaire Richard Branson.”

Campaigners have pointed out that Branson, who enjoys an estimated $5.2bn (£4.2bn) paper fortune, has paid no personal income tax since moving to the tax-free British Virgin Islands 14 years ago.

Commenting on Virgin Group’s plea for a handout, the Los Angeles Times says: “It’s hard to fathom why [Boris] Johnson would throw Virgin Atlantic a lifeline before its American and British Virgin Islands domiciled shareholders have reached deeper into their own pockets”.

When his Caribbean tax domicile was revealed in 2013, Branson wrote in a blog post: “I have not left Britain for tax reasons but for my love of the beautiful British Virgin Islands and in particular Necker Island.” The post has since been deleted.

Last month, Branson moved his $1.1bn stake in Virgin Galactic Holdings, his space tourism for billionaires business, from the US state of Delaware to the British Virgin Islands.

8,000 staff working for Virgin Atlantic, have been put on extended leave or asked to take voluntary redundancy because of the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis.

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