BILLIONAIRE tax exiles, the British National party (BNP), Saudi royals and oil-rich Gulf states have claimed millions of pounds in taxpayers money from the UK Government's furlough scheme.

Government data published last month showed that 750,000 businesses closed under coronavirus restrictions were using the scheme in December 2020.

The data, which was revealed by a Guardian investigation, has come under fire by MPs.

Harrods, which is owned by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, and the Ritz hotel, which is owned by the ruler of Qatar’s brother-in-law, claimed up to £3 million between them that month.

Beneficiaries behind companies that have drawn on the coronavirus job retention scheme include:

  • Members of the Saudi royal family
  • Qataris behind Harrods and the Ritz
  • The ruler of Dubai
  • Tax exiles Jim Ratcliffe and Guy Hands
  • Billionaires Evgeny Lebedev, Len Blavatnik and Mohamed Al Fayed
  • The British National party

Four members of the Saudi royal family were given up to £55,000 for four companies, one of which oversees the running of the Glympton Park estate in Oxfordshire, which had been owned until this year by Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the US.

Dubai’s government and its ruler Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum made claims for companies including a "six-star" 24-hour concierge service for VIPs.

Tax exiles, including Jim Ratcliffe, and billionaires including media tycoon Len Blavatnik, former Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed and newspaper owner Evgeny Lebedev also claimed thousands in state aid. The BNP claimed up to £10,000, the newspaper reports.

Some companies will have claimed more since the furlough scheme, under which the government covers 80% of an employee’s wages, began in March last year.

The shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, told The Guardian: “Labour called from the outset of this crisis for targeted wage support to protect jobs and businesses, but the chancellor refused to listen.

“Now it seems that overseas billionaires have also used the scheme without any such restrictions on its use.

“The mask is slipping with this chancellor. Instead of doing all he can to protect jobs and livelihoods, he’s wasting billions of pounds of public money, cutting pay for our NHS heroes and hitting families across the country with tax hikes and pay freezes.”

Labour MP and tax campaigner Margaret Hodge said: “It’s irresponsible scattering public money like confetti.

“The government are resisting giving free school meals to children and an appropriate pay rise for nurses. In that context, that seems obscene.”

Robert Palmer, the executive director for the campaign group Tax Justice UK, said: “It’s pretty galling that tax exiles who have minimised their contributions in the good times are asking for a handout when things get tough.”

“We’ve been clear the scheme should be used in the spirit in which it was intended,” a spokesperson for the Treasury said, adding that over the last 12 months the scheme had “helped pay the wages of millions of workers across the UK – and it would be wrong to deny anyone necessary support during this difficult time.”

Sarah Olney MP, the Liberal Democrats spokesperson for business and a Public Accounts Committee member, said: “The furlough scheme has been the vital lifeline that millions of businesses and workers needed to get through multiple lockdowns – but the spirit of furlough is that it offers a blanket to those who would struggle without taxpayers’ help.

“Businesses bankrolled by royalty or billionaire owners clearly are better able to cope than most. It seems only fair that they take on their fair share of the emergency costs of this pandemic.”

A spokesman for the Treasury said: "We’ve been clear the scheme should be used in the spirit in which it was intended.

"[The scheme has] helped pay the wages of millions of workers across the UK – and it would be wrong to deny anyone necessary support during this difficult time."