'Festival of Brexit' only reached 4 per cent of its visitor target
Even a former Brexit Party MEP says he 'can't justify' the £120m Festival of Brexit

The so-called 'festival of Brexit' only got 4 per cent of the live visitors it wanted to attract - great news for taxpayers.

The 'festival', which was launched in 2018 by Theresa May and is actually called 'Unboxed,' aimed to celebrate UK creativity and used £120 million of taxpayer's money to do so.

While the event has attracted audiences of 18 million since it opened in the spring, only 2.8 million have attended live events, according to its organisers. This is far less than the 6 million target set by the festival’s chief creative officer, Martin Green, who left last month to run next year’s Eurovision song contest in Liverpool. Unboxed denied to indy100 this was a target figure.

Those who chose not to go to the festival missed out on See Monster, a public art installation housed on a decommissioned North Sea oil platform relocated to Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, and About Us, an immersive lightshow, at the Tower of London.

They also missed out on an immersive group hallucination triggered by lights, and a city centre garden celebrating the diversity of the UK through the lens of plants.

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This is just the latest in a long line of problems the event has dealt with. It is facing a probe for 'wasting' taxpayer money and even former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib said he “can’t justify” the price of the event in March this year.

“I can’t justify £120 million spent on something as nebulous as a transition from a particular set up for the United Kingdom to a new set up for the United Kingdom,” he added, in a TalkRadio interview.

Also in March, a cross party-culture media and sport select committee criticised the government's handling of the project.

They said it took ages to sort out a name and that they thought its purpose was "vague". They said it was "ripe for misinterpretation" in the press and by the public and called the desire to cater for everyone "a recipe for failure".

Tory MP Julian Knight, who chairs the culture select committee, said: “Despite the UK having a strong reputation on the world stage as a leading host of sporting and cultural events, there is no golden thread linking them all together. Unless the government urgently addresses this lack of strategy and vision, it will continue to risk squandering the benefits such occasions can bring, while wasting the hard-earned money of taxpayers."

"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.

"How this questionable example of planning is playing out should act as wake-up call for the government. Such a muddled approach is a sure-fire recipe for failure and we have no confidence that it can meet its ambitious targets for engagement or deliver a return on the substantial investment from the public coffers.”

But responding to the audience figures, Phil Batty, its executive director, told the Guardian: "Unboxed has been a real investment for the taxpayer because we’ve had free access to culture in person and online across the eight months during a year when free things for people to access and enjoy has been really important.

“Beneath that, the programme has supported thousands of jobs across not just the cultural sector, but within science, tech, engineering, local communities. So there is a return on that investment, both in terms of amazing cultural participation and the social benefits that that could deliver, and the benefit to the places that we’ve been and the organisations that we’ve invested the money in.”

Green’s aspiration of 66 million people was never a hard target, said Batty. The festival’s goal was “to create something for the whole UK, something that anyone, no matter where they live, could access. So we moved away from traditional forms of festival delivery to find a form of delivery that was much broader, much wider, much more open.”

It is a simple and fundamental principle that the government derives its democratic legitimacy from the people. The future of the country must not be decided by plotting and U-turns at Westminster; it must be decided by the people in a general election. And for this reason The Independent is calling for an election to be held. Have your say and sign our election petition by clicking here.

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