Billionaire Richard Branson Wants a Government Bailout, And Some People Agree

Saving Virgin Atlantic has industry backing, but the idea also faces criticism

Richard Branson
Richard Branson at the British Virgin Islands in 2017
Jack Brockway/Getty Images

When you’re quarantining on your own a private island, should you be asking for a government bailout?

That’s the dilemma faced by Richard Branson. The billionaire is asking the U.K. government for a £500m bailout for Virgin Atlantic airlines and a £700m bailout from the Australian government for Virgin Australia, according to The Guardian.

And he has some backing, particularly from other business leaders. “Virgin Atlantic’s growth in capacity has been essential in allowing Manchester to become one of the best-connected European airports to the U.S.,” noted Manchester Airports Group chief Charlie Cornish over the weekend. Airbus and Rolls-Royce, which have sold airplanes and engines to Virgin, have also backed the request.

Both liberal and conservative leaders in the U.K., however, have chided Branson, who stopped paying personal income tax since moving to the tax-free British Virgin Islands 14 years ago. As Labour party deputy leader 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.”

Branson had previously pledged $250 million of his own money for his entire Virgin Group; that amount reportedly represents 5 percent of his personal fortune.

Possibly not helping Branson’s case: Criticism of Virgin’s health care group Virgin Care by government officials, and the entrepreneur moving his billion-dollar stake in the space tourism business Virgin Galactic Holdings to the British Virgin Islands on March 16, the day the stock market suffered its worst one-day point drop. As well, it’s estimated up to 8,000 employees at Virgin Atlantic have been on leave or left their jobs voluntarily.

As a Virgin Group spokesperson tells InsideHook, “It is misleading to claim or imply that Richard Branson is asking for bailouts for either Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Australia. In both cases, the airlines have executive teams and boards who are leading discussions on future support for the companies and Virgin is one of a number of shareholders.”

(Update 4/15/2020: Added quote from Virgin Group)

Subscribe here for our free daily newsletter.


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.