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£120 million ‘festival of Brexit’ to be probed by public spending body

The hefty cost of the event has faced widespread criticism

By Nick Reilly

'About Us' event as part of Unboxed
A Commons select committee slammed the government's £120 million investment in Unboxed. (Photo: Unboxed/Press)

The eye-watering £120 million spent on the so-called ‘festival of Brexit’ is to be freshly investigated by a public spending body, after the idea faced widespread criticism.

The programme of events, which was commissioned by Theresa May in 2018 whilst she was prime minister, was originally intended to patriotically tout the nation’s creative virtues, in a manner not dissimilar to the 1951 Festival of Britain. Since, fierce criticism has led organisers to shy away from any association with ‘Britishness’ in its branding, but the festival remains highly controversial.

After confirming the hefty tag in 2020, the event eventually rebranded as Unboxed and began earlier this year.

While it launched with immersive art events in Scotland and Wales, it has now been revealed that Unboxed has welcomed just 240,000 visitors, a mere slither of the 66 million originally hoped to attend.

'Our Place in Space' visualisation, a large scale model of the solar system
The ‘Our Place in Space’ visualisation as part of Unboxed. (Photo: Unboxed).

Now, MPs in a cross-party parliamentary committee have asked the National Audit Office (NAO) to investigate how the money was spent.

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) chairman and Tory MP Julian Knight said: “That such an exorbitant amount of public cash has been spent on a so-called celebration of creativity that has barely failed to register in the public consciousness raises serious red flags about how the project has been managed from conception through to delivery.”

The committee also claims that money has been “frittered away” while bring “so little” for taxpayers.

A previous report in March by the Commons culture, media and sport committee warned that it is “far from clear that [Unboxed] will deliver a return on investment”.

Julian Knight said in a stinging assessment: “The Unboxed festival acts as a prime illustration of an event with aims that have been vague from the start. That it took three years to come up with a rather nebulous name, which will mean little to the few that are even aware of its existence, does not bode well for its chances of delivering a true lasting legacy.”