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Yet perhaps this is too much to ask: Branson has a habit of asking others to pay for his own pet initiatives. During 2016’s EU referendum, anyone wanting to spend more than £10,000 on campaigning for either side during the two and a half months leading up to the vote had to register as a participant. They would then be able to spend up to £700,000. The vast majority of those who registered as participants were campaigning organisations or individuals, such as comedian Eddie Izzard and artist Wolfgang Tillmans, both Remainers. Two exceptions to this were Branson’s Virgin Management and Tim Martin’s J.D. Wetherspoon. The pub chain spent just under £100,000 of its own funds on its advertising campaign. The story with Virgin is rather different.

In the weeks before the referendum, Virgin took out newspaper advertisements featuring a personal letter from Branson urging people to vote Remain. The campaign cost nearly £500,000 — but the money did not predominantly come from Branson’s, or indeed Virgin’s, funds. By far the largest donor to Remain causes during the period in which all donations had to be declared was David Sainsbury, Labour peer and the last family member to serve as chairman of the eponymous supermarket chain. Sainsbury spent well over £4 million of his own money on the referendum. He is no stranger to giving away his money, having donated well over £1 billion to charity, much more than the £560 million which, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, remains of his personal fortune.

Amidst the donations from Sainsbury to the official Remain campaign, the Labour and Liberal Democrat Remain campaigns, and myriad smaller campaigning groups, there are a few which look rather peculiar. The Electoral Commission records two donations, of £210,000 each, from Sainsbury to Virgin Management, an outfit which presumably does not have to rely on charitable largesse. It appears that £420,000 of the £488,000 Virgin spent on Branson’s personal letter to the electorate did not come from the company, or indeed Branson himself. It is odd for a billionaire to rely on a less wealthy man to pay for his own communications with the electorate.

If the residents of the BVI are relying on their resident tycoon to rebuild their islands, they may well have a long wait.
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