Image shows Virgin’s founder and CEO Sir Richard Branson.
British tycoon Sir Richard Branson is a “tax exile” and should be stripped of his knighthood, Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has suggested.
Mr McDonnell told the Sunday Mirror Sir Richard wanted to “undermine” democracy, after a row over Jeremy Corbyn’s journey on a Virgin train.
Image shows the Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, being filmed sitting on the floor of a train complaining about overcrowding. The revelation turned into a heated dispute with Virgin Trains about whether seats were actually available.
Mr Corbyn was travelling from London to Newcastle earlier this month when the alleged disappointing incident occurred on.
His campaign team released footage of Mr Corbyn walking through a busy carriage and said: “When Jeremy boarded the train he was unable to find unreserved seats, so he sat with other passengers in the corridor who were also unable to find a seat.
“Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.”
In response to the “biased” claims, Sir Richard’s Virgin Trains released a footage earlier this week, disputing Mr Corbyn’s claims about overcrowding on one of its services.
Reports say Sir Richard has not responded.
Speaking to the newspaper, Mr McDonnell said former BHS boss Sir Philip Green should also be stripped of his knighthood, BBC wrote.
Image shows Sir Richard Branson.
The Shadow Chancellor, who is running Mr Corbyn’s leadership campaign said: “The whole purpose of the honours system is undermined when the rich and the powerful can collect their gongs without giving anything back. It’s even worse when tax exiles are given honours.”
He added: “It should be a simple choice for the mega-rich. Run off to tax exile if you want. But you leave your titles and your honours behind when you go.”
He singled out Sir Richard, calling him a “tax exile who thinks he can try and intervene and undermine our democracy”.
There is no suggestion the businessman, who lives on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, has done anything illegal.
In 2013, Sir Richard said he was living on the island because of a love for the “beautiful” location – not for tax reasons.
A spokesman for the Shadow Chancellor clarified: “John believes that it should be for Parliament to ultimately decide who is or who is not stripped of their title, if enough members of the public campaign for it.
“But he would not support tax exiles or businessmen who mistreat their employees retaining their titles.”
Responding to Mr McDonnell’s comments, Labour MP John Woodcock, a prominent critic of leader Mr Corbyn, tweeted: “Dare to question Saint Jeremy’s version of the truth? John McDonnell will strip you of your knighthood…”
And speaking at a rally in Hull, Labour leadership contender Owen Smith said: “I think the suggestion John [McDonnell] is making is that Branson should lose his knighthood for telling the truth about seats on his trains.
“I can’t say that I think that’s a reasonable suggestion.”
McDonnell’s comments follow days of acrimony between Labour and Virgin after Corbyn’s team released a clip, filmed earlier this month, showing the Labour leader sitting on the floor of a Virgin train claiming he could not find a seat on a “ram-packed” train and highlighting his policy to nationalize railways.
However, on Tuesday Virgin released CCTV – which Branson tweeted – that it said showed Corbyn’s team walking past rows of vacant seats before filming the clip.
Mr Smith told LBC Radio: “That seems a bit much, to be honest. I think it was merely pointing out the reality that Jeremy didn’t need to sit on the floor.
“I can’t imagine we’d strip somebody’s honours for telling the truth.”
McDonnell also called for Green, who lives in Monaco, to lose his title. “Why should Philip Green, who ran BHS into the ground and paid his wife in Monaco £1bn to avoid UK tax, be honoured with a ‘Sir’?” he asked. “The whole honours system is cheapened when freeloaders like Green are given awards.”
He added: “If you have been found to be a tax avoider or a tax exile then you should not be on the honours list to begin with. And you should certainly have it stripped from you if you subsequently have been found to be not acting in the spirit of our country.”
The Telegraph confirms that On Thursday, Mr Corbyn gave his first account of the journey, saying: “Yes, I did walk through the train. Yes, I did look for two empty seats together so I could sit down with my wife to talk to her. That wasn’t possible, so I went to the end of the train.”
Mr Corbyn reaffirmed that he sat on the floor at the beginning of the trip–when his video was made, adding that the train manager came to his rescue after finding some place so he could be moved.
WHAT BOTH PARTIES ARE SAYING:
Virgin Trains“We’re a bit puzzled why Jeremy couldn’t find unreserved seats when he boarded the train – they’re right next to him as the photo shows.”
– Virgin Trains spokesperson
Jeremy Corbyn“The bigger story is that a tax exile of more than 10 years decides to lay into [Jeremy Corbyn] on social media in a very public way. Richard Branson is literally laughing all the way to the bank at the British taxpayers’ expense. In the last year this chap has made some £53 million directly from the taxpayer.” – Sam Tarry, leadership campaign director, on BBC Today
“Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.” – Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign manager