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Matthew Herbert responds to Daily Mail claims about taxpayer funding of Brexit Big Band project

By | Published on Wednesday 22 November 2017

Matthew Herbert

Matthew Herbert has issued a statement after the Daily Mail attacked the decision to award government funding to his Brexit Big Band project via the BPI-managed Music Export Growth Scheme. MEGS is funded by the British government’s Department For International Trade, which had the Daily Mail dribbling that “taxpayers’ money is being given to an opponent of Brexit”.

The newspaper also found an MP willing to comment without really knowing what the project was about. Conservative right-winger and Brexiteer Peter Bone said: “I think most taxpayers, whether Remainers or Leavers, will find it extraordinary that we are giving money to someone whose principal activity seems to be to campaign against the decision of the British people to come out of the European Union. If he is so anti what the government’s doing perhaps he might like to consider giving the money back”.

As previously reported, the Brexit Big Band is a project that was launched at the moment the UK government triggered Article 50 to leave the European Union. The aim is spend two years recording an album with collaborators all over Europe, releasing the resulting record on 19 Mar 2019, the day that the UK is due to leave the EU.

“In an increasingly fractured and divided political climate where tolerance and creativity are under threat, it feels like an important time to assert the desire for our bit of the musical community in Britain to reach out in solidarity with some of our closest, but soon to be less accessible, friends and neighbours”, said Herbert when he announced the project earlier this year. “The message from parts of the Brexit campaign were that as a nation we are better off alone. I refute that idea entirely and wanted to create a project that embodies the idea of collaboration from start to finish”.

When the Mail published its article last week, Herbert tweeted that he was “happy to be part of the national conversation about what it means to be British”.

Yesterday he followed this up with a more extensive statement, in which he refuted that the MEGS grant was a subsidy, as had been suggested, or that his project was inherently anti-Brexit. “Most importantly, this is not an anti-Brexit project”, he said. “This is a project that, having accepted Brexit will occur, attempts to work out what a new kind of relationship with our European neighbours may look like. That relationship I believe should be founded on respect, curiosity, creativity, empathy, collaboration and love. I am unclear which of those ideals are controversial”.

He continued: “This project is not simply one person’s vision or pet project; it has already had contributions from over 1000 people from here and from all over the world who think those values are worth nurturing”.

On the nature of the funding he has received, he said: “Having recently successfully applied to the BPI for part of a grant to assist with exporting British music abroad, some of the musicians fees will be covered by this. None of it is a wage or money to me. According to the BPI website every £1 they invest brings a return of £10, so it is clear that they consider this an investment rather than a subsidy”.

“The state subsidises many things in this country, including a lot I don’t agree with: wars in the Middle East, the arms trade, processed food manufacturers, giant American tech companies who avoid tax, the DUP, fossil fuel companies and so on”, he added. “If parts of our democracy can’t cope with an industry body supporting musicians in trying to bring ideas of tolerance and hopefully even some joy to others, then maybe we’re in worse shape than I thought”.

“I reserve my democratic right to hold the government accountable in public and to propose an alternative comment that reflects what I believe to be important British values such as inclusiveness and kindness”, he concluded.

“I created this project to be part of the conversation with ourselves and with Europe about what it means to be British post-Brexit. This and any plan should aim to bring people of all identities and beliefs with it. I reject the forced distinction between Remainers and Leavers, and all are welcome to contribute or be part of the show. It’s up to others whether they wish to be part of this expression of common values or not”.

If any Daily Mail journalists are reading, here’s a write up of our session at this year’s CMU Insights conference at The Great Escape in May which considered the value of UK music export schemes of this kind, in further enabling the growth of the UK music industry and the value of its exports to the British economy. Maybe include a quote from it next time you report on it. Then sit back and wait for Paul Dacre to delete it and call you a cunt.