Jacob Rees-Mogg is blocking a major government-backed tourism campaign, despite being a staunch supporter of “global Britain”.
The planned ad blitz is aimed at attracting 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 minister for Brexit Opportunities and government efficiency, has refused to approve the culture department’s £800,000 budget, part of a recovery plan between Whitehall agreed at the latest spending review, despite agreeing to a separate budget of £4 million. for VisitBritain campaigns.
International tourism this year is still 20% lower than 2019 as a result of COVID-19, falling 40% in August due to reduced airport or flight capacity, UK perceptions in the abroad and the initial decline in travel after the pandemic.
Whitehall experts 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 revenue at arts and culture institutions, including more than 50% of spending at heritage sites.
Rees-Mogg, who will take over as business secretary under Liz Truss, is understood to be skeptical of government advertising campaigns in general and has doubts about the value of tourism promotions in countries with populations who may decide to travel to Great Britain Regardless.
However, his decision to reject additional funding runs counter to his usual comments supporting ‘global Britain’ and bolstering the UK’s reputation internationally, as well as leaving the UK tourism industry struggling for catch up.
A senior government source said: “Jacob Rees-Mogg is totally unsuited for modern government. His instinctive ideological stubbornness prevented British tourism from being promoted in key international markets, at a time when many sectors are still on their knees over Covid. He may wrap himself in the UK flag at home, but he is unwilling to fly that flag abroad.”
Tourism Minister Nigel Huddleston is understood to have raised the issue with Rees-Mogg, warning him that Britain risked falling behind other European destinations such as France, Italy and Germany in recovering 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 every proposed campaign. Is it the best use of taxpayers’ money and is it going to deliver the results they want to see?”