Government urged to cancel Festival of Brexit and use £120 million for COVID-19 recovery

"Frankly, I thought this Brexit festival was sick before a pandemic", says MP Jamie Stone

Campaigners have called on the government to ditch controversial efforts for a “Festival of Brexit” and use the money to fund coronavirus recovery efforts as the pandemic continues.

The 2022 event, which was first touted under Theresa May’s government, is described as a showcase for “the UK’s unique strengths in creativity and innovation” after leaving the European Union – with comparisons to the 1951 Festival of Britain.

While critics have consistently questioned the estimated £120m cost of the festival, planning took a step forward last year when organisers called for “daring, new and popular” ideas that will unite the nation.

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Lib Dem MP Jamie Stone has now called on Boris Johnson‘s government to scrap the event entirely – and says it would be “sick” to spend the huge sum on the celebration during the pandemic.

Mr Stone, who is the Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson for digital, culture, media and sport, has launched a petition calling on the government to cancel the post-EU cultural celebration – and has secured thousands of signatures.

The Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP said: “Britain’s culture calamity is real thanks to Brexit, yet the taxpayer is being asked to cough up £120million for bread and circuses.

“Frankly, I thought this Brexit festival was sick before a pandemic – but given we’ve got kids starving, carers suffering on a minimum wage and millions of people out of work and locked out of financial support, well, it’s testament to how skewed the Tory moral compass really is.

“I hope people will support my call to cancel this insulting Brexit festival – regardless of how they voted in the referendum – and for the money to be redirected to a COVID-19 recovery fund.”

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Responding to the latest calls, a Government spokesperson said: “Festival UK 2022 is about championing all that is great about the UK, showcasing our country’s unique strengths in creativity and innovation and bringing the country together – not advancing a political agenda.

“With 30 teams now working on projects for the Festival, it is already helping to create jobs and commissions for those working in industries impacted by coronavirus, and will open up many more opportunities over the next two years. We’ve made a record investment in the arts with the £1.5 billion Culture Recovery Fund and stand ready to help with the recovery, so it’s not either the Festival or support, it’s both”.

Last year, the Music Venue Trust also called on the government to cancel the event and use the money to instead secure the future of Britain’s grassroots culture amid the coronavirus crisis.

The latest backlash surrounding Britain’s departure from the EU comes after the government was condemned for failing to implement visa-free travel in Europe for British musicians and their crew.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden previously told NME that the EU was to blame for not permitting visa-free travel for artists, before the EU subsequently hit back by denying claims that they had rejected the UK’s “ambitious proposals” and saying that they had in fact offered the UK 90 days of visa-free travel – but the UK responded with their own proposal of just 30 days.

Over 100 musicians, including the likes of Elton John, Liam Gallagher and Ed Sheeran, signed an open letter last week (January 20) criticising the government for their failure to support touring musicians in the Brexit deal.

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