Row between ‘Festival of Brexit’ chief and Nick Robinson

‘Festival of Brexit’ chief insists £120m event HAS been a success as Tory MPs accuse it of being a ‘colossal waste of money’ after just 2.8million people went to live events

  • A baffling row over the festival erupted this morning over the number of visitors
  • Exec director Phil Batty said he thought the £120million project was success
  • But Nick Robinson said on Radio 4 it had missed its 60 million visitor target
  • Prompted Mr Batty to insist the number was not a target, but  ‘creative ambition’

The director of the £120million ‘Festival of Brexit‘ insisted today it had been ‘very successful’ – as Tory MPs branded it ‘a colossal waste of money’

Unboxed aimed for 66 million people to go to its attractions, but only three million turned up.

And in a tit-for-tat interview this morning executive director Phil Batty insisted the number was not a target – bafflingly describing instead as a ‘creative ambition’.

It came as Tory MP Julian Knight, a consistent critic who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee, said it had been a failure.

This morning’s exchange happened on Radio 4’s Today programme between Mr Batty and Nick Robinson.

He insisted 18 million people took part in events overall, including those broadcast online and through virtual reality.

Mr Batty said: ‘These cultural experiences have showcased the very best of science, the very best of tech and the very best of the arts through live and through digital.’

But Mr Robinson pressed ‘That wasn’t the original target was it, the original target was for 66million visitors?’   

See Monster was 35 metres tall and covered four publicly accessible levels animated by a 10-metre-high waterfall and features a multi-level slide offering an alternative route through the monster

See Monster was 35 metres tall and covered four publicly accessible levels animated by a 10-metre-high waterfall and features a multi-level slide offering an alternative route through the monster

The £8 million 'PoliNations' project is just one aspect of the giant nationwide festival called Unboxed

The £8 million ‘PoliNations’ project is just one aspect of the giant nationwide festival called Unboxed

Mr Batty insisted: ’66 million was never a visitor target for this programme. It was a creative ambition for the programme.’ 

A confused Mr Robinson went again with ‘It was an ambition, not a target?’

But Mr Batty stood firm, responding: ‘It was an ambition because we wanted to be really inclusive for the whole of the UK, and I think we’ve delivered that.’

Robinson then fired back: ‘Well you’re way off it aren’t you? If you were aiming for 66 million and you only got three million to actually go to anything that means you were dramatically under it.

‘Are you saying everyone has got it wrong, this was a triumph and a success. Wouldn’t it be more honest to say we’d hoped to do quite a bit better but we think there are some things we can celebrate.’ 

Mr Batty then doubled down with: ‘I believe it has been very successful because we’ve seen that whether that’s live events in towns and villages there’s been an economic boost, but also we’ve seen major free cultural projects provided to millions of people right across the UK, and that’s hugely important.’ 

The 'See Monster' is one of the projects in 'Unboxed: Creativity in the UK' which was originally dubbed the 'Festival of Brexit' by Jacob Rees-Mogg

The ‘See Monster’ is one of the projects in ‘Unboxed: Creativity in the UK’ which was originally dubbed the ‘Festival of Brexit’ by Jacob Rees-Mogg

Later Tory Mr Knight savaged the project as a ‘colossal waster of money’.

He added: ‘There was certainly some stigma over the phrase “Festival of Brexit” at the start for certain artists, but the reality is that this was clearly a failure of the project.

‘It was a failure in terms of having an idea and actually having something that resonated with people.

‘Despite reassurances from organisers that everything would be alright on the night, the scant interest shown by the public is a damning indictment of the festival from start to finish.

‘With Unboxed costing four times the celebrations for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, serious questions need to be answered about the aims and delivery of the project and how it has been allowed to squander such a vast sum of taxpayers’ money.’

Unboxed proudly boasted it was presenting a number of free ‘once-in-a-lifetime celebration of UK creativity’, spanning the UK until October, including artwork called ‘Dreamachine’ which aims to unlock the kaleidoscopic power of the human mind. 

Another, ‘StoryTrails’, used virtual reality technology to bring to life the ‘hidden histories’ of 15 UK towns and cities, and runs from July until September.

The ‘Festival of Brexit’ celebrations were announced in 2018 by then-prime minister Theresa May.

She promised a ‘year-long festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ – before they were transformed into ‘Unboxed’, an eight-month ‘celebration of creativity’ with a series of events across the UK. 

Unboxed says on its website that it is funded and supported by the UK Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, Scottish Government and Welsh Government.

The events were chosen following what organisers described as an ‘open call for ideas’ in 2020, which saw them receive 299 submissions involving around 3,000 organisations, freelancers and other creatives to take part in a research and development programme.

In November that year, 30 creative teams were shortlisted by representatives of the festival team and the delivery bodies, with input from a group of creative advisors, to take part in the funded research and development project.

Organisers said a ‘rigorous selection process’ saw ten teams commissioned to work on their project ideas in March 2021 – comprising of six UK-wide teams, plus one each for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

‘Unboxed: Creativity in the UK’: What were the ten art exhibits at the £120m former ‘Festival of Brexit’? 

‘Unboxed: Creativity in the UK’, originally dubbed the ‘Festival of Brexit’, has cost British taxpayers £120m and ran from March to October this year.

Across 2022 it featured 10 ‘awe-inspiring new ideas’ across, science technology, maths and the arts.

  • ‘About us’ (March – May): ‘Open-air spectacular’ show of ‘sound and light’ to ‘celebrate extraordinary connections’
  • ‘Dandelion’ (Spring – Autumn): 1x1m ‘Cubes of Perpetual Light’ used as ‘miniature vertical farms’ in Scotland
  • ‘Dreamachine’ (Spring – Autumn): ‘Explore your own mind’ by sitting in the exhibit like a giant kaleidoscope – Spring to Autumn
  • ‘Galwad’ (September – October): Brings together Welsh talent to tell a story through digital, broadcast and live events
  • ‘Green Space Dark Skies’ (April – September): Participants become ‘Lemenators’ carrying a low impact light onto the UK’s most beautiful green spaces
  • ‘Our Place in Space’ (April – October) 10km sculpture trail of an ‘epic’ scale model of the solar system touring across the UK
  • ‘PoliNations’ (August to September): A ‘Magical city-centre forest-garden’ in Birmingham Reflects on UK’s ‘complex histories surrounding migration and diversity’
  • ‘See Monster’ (Summer): A disused North Sea offshore platform regenerated in Weston-super-Mare ‘StoryTrails’ – July to September
  • ‘StoryTrails’ (July – September): A ‘magical AR and VR immersion in the hidden histories’ of 15 UK towns and cities
  • ‘Tour de Moon’ (May – June): Described as a ‘cosmic journey into the possibilities of tomorrow: live shows, nightlife, digital experiences and more created in collaboration with the Moon’

Source: Unboxed


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