Government to continue with Brexit Festival planning despite virus crisis

PUBLISHED: 17:50 13 May 2020 | UPDATED: 17:50 13 May 2020

Festival of Brexit Britain. Image: TNE/Martin Rowson.

Festival of Brexit Britain. Image: TNE/Martin Rowson.

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The government is continuing with plans for a much-mocked £120m ‘Festival of Brexit’ in 2022 despite the coronavirus crisis, The New European can reveal.

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While all cultural life in the country is currently frozen as a result of the outbreak and the subsequent lockdown, the Department for Digital. Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) says it remains “committed” to the £120m nationwide celebration.

And it says it could create jobs and commissions for those industries hit by the pandemic - despite the arts and culture communities being almost unanimously opposed to Brexit.

The idea of a post-Brexit festival of Britain was announced by Theresa May in May 2018 and given the go-ahead by Boris Johnson upon entering Downing Street last year. It was originally put forward by leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said that it would be a “huge celebration” of Britain leaving the EU.

Its director Martin Green, formerly in charge of the Olympic ceremonies, said its aims would be to bring the nation together, showcase British creativity, and on a basic level bring some “joy, hope and happiness”.

But it has been dubbed the ‘Festival of Brexit’ by critics with some figures from arts institutions reported to have privately expressed concern it will alienate Remain-supporting visitors to the museums and galleries taking part.

Despite the lockdown, which has seen all live music venues, theatres and museums closing down, DCMS said preparations were still going ahead.

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A spokesperson told The New European: “We remain committed to delivering the Festival 2022 which will be a fantastic opportunity to champion all that is great about the UK, and showcase our country’s unique strengths in creativity and innovation.

“Alongside other major events planned for 2022, the Festival will help create jobs and commissions for those working in industries that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.”

Ministers were continuing to receive regular updates on the progress of the festival from Mr Green, its creative director, the spokesperson added.

The proposal is said to have been inspired by the 1851 Great Exhibition during Queen Victoria’s reign, along with the post-war festival of Britain in 1951.

In January, before the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Green used his first interview to say he would prove the cynics wrong with his intention to make it a genuine celebration for all.

He told the Observer: “There is obviously a big narrative going on around healing and coming together. There is no doubt that money has been made available because this country is exiting the European Union, there is no getting away from that.

“There is also no doubt that we have been through a particularly divisive time in the discourse of our daily lives, and as we go forward, let’s see how the great creativity and ingenuity of the UK can help refind that common ground.

“On a very basic level, we are probably due a bit of joy and hope and happiness, and art is really good at that.”

The government could struggle if looking for pro-Brexit artists to perform and create events for the festival. The few who backed Leave include Roger Daltrey, John Cleese, Elaine Paige and former Bucks Fizz singer Jay Aston.

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Almost four years after its creation The New European goes from strength to strength across print and online, offering a pro-European perspective on Brexit and reporting on the political response to the coronavirus outbreak, climate change and international politics. But we can only rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press with your support. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

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