Brexit festival sparks huge backlash as MPs fume at 'vague, shape-shifting and irresponsible' £120million bill

The Unboxed event, which is set to take place later this year, is supposed to showcase the best of the UK's creativity

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The Government has been accused by MPs of wasting tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a so-called “festival of Brexit” without any clear idea of what it is meant to be.

The Unboxed: Creativity in the UK event – due to take place later this year – is supposed to showcase the best of the country’s creativity following its withdrawal from the European Union.

But in a scathing report, the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee said the lack of clear direction was a “recipe for failure” and an “irresponsible use of public money”.

The initiative was originally unveiled in 2018 by Theresa May as Festival UK* 2022 – and was subsequently rebranded when Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.

The Government has invested £120million in the event, which is supposed to evoke the spirit of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the 1951 Festival of Britain.

File photo dated 01/03/22 of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as the Government has been accused by MPs of wasting tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on a so-called "festival of Brexit" without any clear idea of what it is meant to be.
File photo dated 01/03/22 of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as the Government has been accused by MPs of wasting tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on a so-called "festival of Brexit" without any clear idea of what it is meant to be.

But the Committee said that while ministers had “great ambitions” for it, they had so far failed to communicate a “compelling vision” to the public for a “vague and shape-shifting” event.

With time running out, the MPs said they “seriously question” whether it can deliver a return of the investment for the public purse.

“Since the event’s inception in 2018, the aims for Festival UK* 2022/Unboxed: Creativity in the UK have been vague and ripe for misinterpretation by the press and public at large. We see no evidence to refute such scepticism now,” the report said.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled the festival in 2018.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled the festival in 2018.

“The desire for it to seemingly cater to everyone, everywhere, is a recipe for failure and investing £120million in something when the Government, by their own admission, ‘did not know what it was’ is an irresponsible use of public money.

“Despite ambitious ‘stretch targets’ for engagement, just a few months out there remains a worrying lack of detail about how that will be achieved, particularly when it comes to touring projects internationally.”

Unboxed is one of a number of events taking place in the UK in 2022 – along with the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham – which the Government hopes will bring the country together in the way the 2012 London Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee did.

The Committee said that despite spending “a lot of money”, a lack of clear policy meant it may result in a missed opportunity.

“Yet while individual occasions may well deliver memorable moments, we see no golden thread linking the events or tying them to a vision for the future of this country,” it said.

“If the UK is to leverage major events fully, they must unite people at home and abroad around a sense of shared culture.

“However, we see no sense of how 2022’s events will take us on a journey of renewal as a country – despite the many differing views about the image of Britishness that the events should promote.”