The vanity projects Boris Johnson splurged £770m of taxpayers’ money on while Prime Minister
When he was Mayor of London Boris Johnson was known for vanity projects like the ‘Garden Bridge’ - but this habit did not stop when he entered Downing Street.
He was without a doubt a divisive leader, and the end to his premiership was arguably one of the most dramatic the UK has seen.
His highs include the coronavirus vaccination rollout and the UK’s handling of the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while his lows include Partygate, breaking manifesto pledges, and the Chris Pincher scandal.
Amongst these moments, Johnson has also embarked upon a series of vanity projects, which his critics say are white elephants that cost or would have cost the UK hundreds of millions of pounds.
From the idea of building a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland to a Festival of Brexit, we’ve put together a list of all his big-spend projects, including those currently up and running and those which never quite took off.
The National Flagship
One of the projects announced by Johnson during his time as prime minister was the creation of a new national flagship - set to replace the Royal Yacht Britannia, which was decommissioned in 1997.
The ship is intended to be used as a “working trade ship”, and was described in the strategy report released about it as “a visible demonstration of the UK’s commitment to enhance and strengthen trade with our key export markets around the world.”
Despite its trade purposes, the ship will be reportedly paid for out of the defence spending budget.
It is expected to set sail in 2025. The project is estimated to cost £250m.
The ‘Brexit Bridge’ between Scotland and Northern Ireland
Following on from Brexit, Johnson also announced plans to build a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Reports claimed that he was keen to link Northern Ireland to Great Britain as part of a broader vision to connect the constituent parts of the UK.
But the plans were axed as the Treasury clamped down on spending, led by then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak who was conducting a spending review before the October 2021 Budget.
If it had gone ahead, the Brexit Bridge is estimated to have cost between £15 billion and £335 billion.
The satellite firm that went bankrupt
OneWeb was a UK-based satellite firm which went bankrupt in March 2020.
In July 2020, the UK Government bought a stake in the failed company to rescue it from bankruptcy as part of a post-Brexit space strategy.
Later, MPs launched an inquiry into the investment after it was revealed that a top civil servant had raised concerns about the deal.
Darren Jones, chairman of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, said in a statement that “using nearly half a billion pounds of taxpayer money to gamble on a ‘commercial opportunity’ whilst still failing to support manufacturing jobs with a sector deal is both troubling and concerning”.
The Government’s investment cost £400 million.
The ‘Festival of Brexit’
The most recent ‘vanity’ project is actually still ongoing. The ‘Festival of Brexit’ is set to run until early October.
The idea was first coined in 2018, before Johnson became Prime Minister, but it was his administration which eventually made it happen.
With targets of attracting 66 million visitors, the festival has come up short as only 238,000 people have turned up thus far.
Organisers of “Unboxed”, which is the arts’ festival’s official name, said it was “unfortunate” that the “Festival of Brexit” name tag - coined by Jacob Rees-Mogg, had “stuck”.
In total, the festival cost £120 million. That works at around £500 per visitor.