Jacob Rees-Mogg is blocking a major government-backed tourism campaign – despite being a vocal advocate of “Global Britain”.
The planned advertising blitz is aimed at bringing back tourists from key international markets including India, China, Australia, Japan and Canada to boost visitor numbers in the wake of the pandemic.
But Rees-Mogg, in his role as Brexit opportunities and government efficiencies minister, has refused to sign off the department for culture’s £800,000 budget – part of a cross-Whitehall recovery plan agreed at the last spending review – despite agreeing a separate £4m for VisitBritain campaigns.
International tourism this year is still 20% down on 2019 as a result of Covid, dropping 40% in August due to reduced airport or flight capacity, perceptions of the UK abroad and the initial post-pandemic travel bounce tailing off.
Whitehall insiders have warned the Cabinet Office minister that many small businesses and visitor attractions are suffering as a result. Visitors from the 16 key countries account for a significant proportion of income at arts and culture institutions, including more than 50% of spending at heritage sites.
Rees-Mogg, who is tipped to take over as business secretary under Liz Truss, is understood to be sceptical of government advertising campaigns in general and to have doubts about the value of tourism promotions in countries with populations that may decide to travel to Britain regardless.
However, his decision to reject the extra funding flies in the face of his regular comments supporting “Global Britain” and bolstering the UK’s reputation internationally, as well as leaving the UK tourism industry struggling to catch up.
A senior government source said: “Jacob Rees-Mogg is totally unsuited to modern governance. His kneejerk ideological stubbornness halted British tourism from being promoted in key international markets, at the very time when many sectors are still on their knees from Covid. He may wrap himself in the union jack at home, but he is unwilling to fly that flag abroad.”
It is understood that the tourism minister Nigel Huddleston had raised the issue with Rees-Mogg, warning him that Britain risked falling behind other European destinations such as France, Italy and Germany in winning back foreign tourists at a time when competition for business is fierce.
A source close to Rees-Mogg said: “This has been a protracted negotiation between departments. It is perfectly acceptable for ministers to question the value of each proposed campaign. Is it the best use of taxpayers’ money and is it going to deliver the results they want to see?”
September 3, 2022 at 12:38PM Pippa Crerar political editor