“What are you fine gentlemen in the market for?”. This is what Richard Branson asked Joey and Chandler in 1998 in an attempt to get a few quid off them as a street vendor on the streets of London for the popular TV sitcom, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. 22 years on and he is still trying to get money off the people who walk the streets of London. Actually, he is trying to get money off people in Manchester too. And Liverpool. And Bristol. And Cardiff. And Belfast. And Nottingham. And Glasgow. And Brighton. And Swansea. And Edinburgh. And Blackpool. In fact, the self-proclaimed “tie loathing adventurer”, is trying to get a few quid off all taxpayers across the UK. The small sum of £500 million to be precise. But not to worry, this is not a bailout. This is definitely not a bailout, says the flamingo owning 69-year-old. A simple, commercial loan that will help alleviate Dr Yes’s airline woes and will be paid back as soon as possible, “throw us £500mil please Mr Treasurer. Boris told me to tell you that you’ve to put it on the slate. I’m totally good for it man, my word is my bond. I haven’t missed a payment when I’ve been on tick for decades”. And how could we possibly doubt him? After all, has anyone yet to meet a billionaire who doesn’t need a £500 million taxpayer funded loan from time to time.
Maybe I am being a little harsh. Branson is the embodiment of the polite Brit stereotype with an air of Fantastic Mr Fox. A brilliant businessman with a charming smile. One of the world’s largest employers. A man who lives on his own island with his employees. Imagine how grateful they must be to him. He is, in Toy Story terms, the Mr Potato Head to their Alien, plucked by Branson’s claw from Pizza Planet and delivered to Necker Island, “you have saved our lives, we are eternally grateful”.
But then again, maybe we should be critical of a man who sued the NHS before going on to obtain £2 billion worth of contracts from them. Maybe we should be outraged by a man who has more money than we will ever collectively make and yet, has lived as a tax exile for the last 14 years. Perhaps we should question if he really moved away from the mainland for the beauty of sunny Necker Island rather than lose a few percent of his profits. So, the man who is not domiciled in the UK and has not paid taxes has returned, hat in hand, bottom lip hanging out and eyes wide. After the rejection of the £100 million bailing out of Flybe, the government has a chance to strike a good deal with Branson. “Well, Dickie, let’s make a deal. Pay your income tax like every other Brit, and we might consider giving you a hand. In the meantime, we have booked you on a flight back to Necker Island with Ryanair. They were going very cheap.”