PM has ‘questions to answer’ over exhibition promises to Tory donor, says Labour

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Labour has said the Prime Minister has “serious questions to answer” over promises to the Tory donor funding his flat refurbishment that he was “on” a plan to hold a Great Exhibition.

In WhatsApp messages exchanged between Boris Johnson and Lord Brownlow in November 2020, Mr Johnson asked the peer to approve further work on his No 11 Downing Street flat before telling him he was “on the great exhibition plan”, adding “will revert”.

Lord Brownlow thanked Mr Johnson for “thinking about” the event, and in records of ministerial meetings he was later present at a meeting including then-culture secretary Oliver Dowden and the Royal Albert Hall on January 18 2021.

No 10 insisted on Thursday afternoon that the idea for a Great Exhibition 2.0 “wasn’t taken forward, the Government’s instead taken forward the Festival UK in 2022”.

But Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “It appears that Lord Brownlow had access to the Prime Minister and Culture Secretary because he was paying for his luxury flat renovations.

“It is pretty unbelievable that Boris Johnson didn’t know who was paying for his luxury flat renovations.

“If so, that is corruption plain and simple. No-one should be able to buy access or exchange wallpaper for festivals. Boris Johnson has serious questions to answer.”

Ministers’ standards
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

A spokesman for the Prime Minister could not give details on the difference between the Great Exhibition 2.0, which he insisted was “not taken forward”, and Festival UK, which is planned to go ahead.

Festival UK is also known as Unboxed, and previously Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg dubbed it the Festival Of Brexit.

It has been billed as an exposition of creativity and innovation.

The spokesman said: “Festival UK was confirmed in 2018 and planning started in early 2020.”

Reports from 2018 said the festival would be “a nationwide celebration inspired by the 1851 Great Exhibition”.

In a further statement, a No 10 spokesman said: “All prime ministers and ministers have proposals put to them at various points and ministers also meet stakeholders regularly as part of their engagement on an array of issues.

“In line with normal practice, this idea was referred to the relevant department, considered and ultimately not taken forward by the Government.

“The Government is taking forward Festival UK this year, which was confirmed in 2018, re-affirmed in the 2019 manifesto and is a cultural programme of events, called ‘Unboxed’, on arts, design and technology which will span the whole of the UK.”

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