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Branson and Sugar among business figures to miss dinner with Trump

The Guardian logo The Guardian 12/07/2018 Rob Davies

Sir Richard Branson © Getty Sir Richard Branson Prominent figures from British business and industry will attend a dinner with Donald Trump on Thursday night but Sir Richard Branson and Lord Sugar, who have had high-profile spats with the US president in recent years, will be among the absentees.

Theresa May, the prime minister, will host the black-tie event for business leaders at Blenheim Palace, the former home of Sir Winston Churchill, near Woodstock, Oxfordshire. The event forms part of Trump’s state visit to the UK.

Invitees, including the chief executives of FTSE 100 firms such as Rolls-Royce, Barclays, and BP, as well as Britain’s richest man, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, will have the chance to hear from Trump about his industrial and trading policies.

The dinner comes amid mounting concern about an escalating trade war between the US and China; the president has slapped high tariffs on imported goods as part of his America First agenda.

Guests will be able to hear at the event about matters affecting their industries but Sugar and Branson will not be present.

U.S. President Donald Trump © Reuters U.S. President Donald Trump

Sugar, who is worth more than £1bn according to the last Sunday Times Rich List, said he had not been invited, despite the fact he and Trump presented the television show The Apprentice in their respective countries.

The pair exchanged a string of acid barbs in 2012 after Trump criticised the UK for subsidising wind farms. He told Sugar: “Without my show you’d be nothing!” and said Sugar should drop to his knees “and say thank you, Mr Trump”.

Branson, whose fortune is estimated at £3.8bn, will not be at Blenheim Palace either, although it is not clear whether he turned down an invitation or was not on the guest list. A book by the Virgin Atlantic tycoon, entitled Finding My Virginity, contains details of a feud between the two billionaires, in which Trump wrote a scornful letter to Branson criticising his TV show The Rebel Billionaire. 

Trump wrote: “At least your dismal ratings can now allow you to concentrate on your airline which, I am sure, needs every ounce of your energy. It is obviously a terrible business and I can’t imagine, with fuel prices etc, that you can be doing any better in it than anyone else.”

Branson has also referred to having met Trump and witnessed his “vindictive streak”. However, sources close to Branson said the Virgin billionaire rarely attends UK business dinners.

Other omissions from the guest list include the British American Tobacco chief executive, Nicandro Durante (despite the FTSE 100 firm’s £37bn acquisition of the US rival Reynolds American), and John Pettigrew, head of the power firm National Grid, which has sizeable US operations. Marco Gobbetti, the chief executive of the luxury fashion house Burberry, is also not going.

Lord Sugar © Getty Lord Sugar Snacking for America: Donald Trump eating a pork chop during his presidential campaign in Iowa, US.Photograph: Jim Young/Reuters

Some leading business figures have been invited but have turned down the opportunity.

Martha Lane Fox, the founder of, who sits on the board at Twitter and is a member of the House of Lords, turned down her invitation. “I understand why the government have to entertain Trump but I certainly don’t want to,” Lady Lane Fox said, according to the Financial Times.

Three of the ‘big four’ accounting firms are sending their UK chiefs, although PricewaterhouseCoopers’ chair and senior partner, Kevin Ellis, has a prior commitment. WPP’s chair, Roberto Quarta, who is leading the world’s largest advertising company since the resignation of Sir Martin Sorrell, is also not attending because of a previous engagement.

Martha Lane Fox, philanthropist, business chief and member of the Lords, who declines to entertain Donald Trump. © Reuters Martha Lane Fox, philanthropist, business chief and member of the Lords, who declines to entertain Donald Trump. British business leaders who are going to the dinner include Warren East, the CEO of Rolls-Royce, James Staley, the CEO of Barclays, and Helena Morrissey, a board member at the City firm Legal & General.

BP’s group chief executive, Bob Dudley, and his counterpart at Shell, Ben van Beurden, are thought to be attending, as is Ratcliffe, the founder of the petrochemicals firm Ineos, who is estimated to be worth more than £20bn.

Other names understood to be on the guest list include Unilever’s head, Paul Polman, the GlaxoSmithKline CEO, Emma Walmsley, Goldman Sachs’ international chief executive, Richard Gnodde, Airbus’s chief, Tom Enders, and Larry Fink, the CEO of the investment firm BlackRock.


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