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Exclusive: The Attorney General has sent personal letters to MPs asking them to donate funds for a £175,000 sculpture to mark the Queen’s platinum jubilee in Parliament.
Michael Ellis’ notes on Commons headed paper appealed to MPs to consider making a donation of “any sum” towards a pair of celebratory bronze lamps. He explained that MPs can either write a cheque or carry out a bank transfer.
One letter seen by PoliticsHome was sent in early June, as Covid cases were surging significantly, and it was clear that the third wave of the pandemic currently being endured in the UK was well underway.
The letters, and a flurry of emails sent by the government’s top legal officer in a personal capacity, have led some MPs to criticise the project as “obscene” and “in poor taste”.
They questioned whether it was a good use of a senior member of the government’s time during the pandemic, and whether the Queen’s jubilee could have been marked in a more modest way.
PoliticsHome knows of three Labour MPs who received Ellis’ fundraising letters, some of which were handwritten. One MP said they threw theirs straight in the bin.
A year of Platinum Jubilee celebrations is planned in 2022 to mark 70 years of the Queen’s reign.
It is understood the Tory MP, who was asked by the speakers of the Commons and Lords to lead the jubilee gift project, has received significant support for the celebratory sculpture from MPs and peers, and has exceeded the £175,000 target in the last few weeks. Any remaining money not used for the project is expected to go to charity.
Ellis has described the jubilee gift as “a pair of unique bronze sculptures of the heraldic beasts of the United Kingdom” with lamps which will “serve as beacons to symbolise the guiding light Her Majesty has been to the nation during her reign”.
But the timing of the lavish project, as the UK hopes to recover from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, has been heavily criticised.
“£175k for a sculpture during the worst time our country has faced in decades is obscene,” one Labour MP said.
“We could have done something more meaningful to mark her Jubilee and certainly less expensive.
“I think given the economic situation facing most people in the country, it’s in really poor taste. I hope that everyone that gave money matches it with donations to charity for those most in need.”
Another MP said they had thrown their letter requesting money straight in the bin.
One Labour insider said MPs who had been sent the “reminder letters” were frustrated to be bombarded with requests during the coronavirus crisis.
“It’s a lot of money for a statue that will be seen by a tiny minority of people. I’m not sure why the Attorney General has dedicated so much of his time to this during the pandemic,” they said.
Ellis, who is covering the post of Attorney General while Suella Braverman is on maternity leave, previously led a project to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee in 2012 with the installation of a stained glass window in Westminster Hall.
On the platinum jubilee scheme, Ellis said the lamps would also have a “practical effect” in a busy part of the Parliamentary estate. Design paperwork seen by PoliticsHome, shows the 5m tall sculptures mounted on pedestals of Portland stone and lanterns in the shape of St Edward’s crown.
Their proposed placement at the top of steps in New Palace Yard is believed to be intended to create a symbolic line of jubilee gifts through the parliamentary estate, linking the diamond jubilee window in Westminster Hall, to the silver jubilee fountain.
The lamps will feature the lion of England, the unicorn of Scotland, the dragon of Wales and the Irish elk of Northern Ireland, and will have other Royal symbols.
The cost is to be met entirely by the donations from MPs and peers, and at no expense to the public.
PoliticsHome has approached the Attorney General for comment.
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