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A celebratory festival to take place after Britain’s recent departure from the EU will go ahead next year. The £120million event is currently titled Festival UK 2022 with a final name expected to be confirmed in the following months. It was announced during Theresa May’s time as Prime Minister, and is now backed by Boris Johnson’s Government.
This week, the organisers for the festival announced that ten teams had successfully pitched ideas for the event, and have been given the go-ahead to move forward with planning.
The event has often been referred to as the “Festival of Brexit”, a term first used by Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, though organisers are keen to downplay any political aspect to the event itself.
The festival appears to remain a divisive one, though, as some have balked at the cost.
Campaigners claim the money would be better spent helping the UK recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
Lib Dem MP Jamie Stone, the party’s spokesman for digital, culture, media and sport, said: “Britain’s culture calamity is real thanks to Brexit, yet the taxpayer is being asked to cough up £120million for bread and circuses.”
Boris Johnson’s ‘Festival of Brexit’ under fire – but Tony Blair’s Dome cost six times more
Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg
The cost of the event appears to be almost seven times smaller than what former Prime Minister Tony Blair spent on a similar project, though.
When former Prime Minister John Major announced the Millennium Dome project in the early Nineties, the plan was for a London-based facility featuring various exhibits and events that was to be completed for the year 2000 festivities.
It was a political move, but one with modest enough ambitions, and seemingly very easy to achieve given the timeframe.
However, when Sir John gave way to his successor Tony Blair in 1997, the project was reimagined: it was to be a much bigger facility with an afterlife that would have eventually made it the home of a major football team.
However, as with most big projects, the Dome, as it was dubbed, couldn’t live up to the hype.
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair
Built at a cost of £758million, the Dome was insolvent almost from the beginning.
Mr Blair, not a project manager, predicted 12 million people would visit the facility and its operating budget was built around that figure.
After it opened, just over six million walked through the doors.
The afterlife of the Dome was rather bleak as well.
The amount spent on maintaining the closed building was heavily criticised.
Shortly after it had closed, Lord Falconer, the Cabinet minister in charge of the project, reported the Dome was costing over £1million per month to maintain.
The football team never materialised and the next few years saw a number of possible uses and tenants come and go.
In 2005, it was sold and redeveloped as the O2 Arena, an entertainment facility.
During his premiership, Mr Blair was often criticised for wasting taxpayers’ money.
In particular, the Labour grandee came under fire for using the Queen’s Flight more than she did during his time in office, at a cost of more than £1.2million.
He used the RAF’s Royal Squadron 677 times between 1997 and 2005, Whitehall statistics showed.
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The Millennium Dome under construction
Tony Blair ran up a £1.2million bill using Queen’s Flight 677 times
He even kept a BAE 146 jet on hand for a week during a family holiday in Egypt, at a cost of more than £30,000.
In contrast, the Queen used one of her own planes only seven times between March 2004 and March 2005.
Tory MPs accused Mr Blair and his ministers of using the Queen’s Flight as his “private taxi service”.
Then Shadow Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “I think most people will be astonished at the way ministers seem to be using the Queen’s Flight as a private taxi service.
“Ministers, including Gordon Brown, have been using it for short hops to Brussels.
“Margaret Beckett has been using it to be dropped home in the East Midlands and the Prime Minister has been taking it on holiday with him.
“I am not convinced we are being shown the full costs. Some of the figures look remarkably low given the expenses involved.”
A Downing Street spokeswoman defended Mr Blair, saying: “All travel is conducted within the requirements of the Ministerial Code.
“The Prime Minister always uses the most efficient form of transport, taking into account the alternatives available, the cost to the taxpayer and the environmental impact.”