For anyone not to have heard of “BREXIT” you would have had to be asleep for the last three years or, been a long-time contestant in the Big Brother House, cut off from any and all forms of current news. This coined-phrase became internationally known as Brexit that referenced a proposed exit of the UK from the EU. Coin collectors who have been keeping up with European politics may have recently read that the anticipated commemorative Brexit coins eagerly awaited by some – derided by others came very close to being released into circulation last month.
When the results of the June 2016 referendum were announced, few had accurately predicted the United Kingdom would choose to leave the European Union after a membership of forty three years – although one of tumultuous highs and lows. There were cheers and jeers – parties and celebrations as well as some lamenting the opportunities they saw as no longer available to them as EU citizens.
A Landmark National Moment Needs a Keepsake After All!
The last thing many ordinary Britons thought about at the time was “will there be a commemorative coin for Brexit?” But, it was a legitimate question. On the 7th March 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May signed into law the article 50 clause of the Maastricht treaty which stated the UK intended to leave the EU – no later than the 29th March 2019. One of the country’s most popular tabloids actually campaigned to its readers to support the issue of a commemorative 50 pence coin to mark the event. In October 2018, Britain’s Finance Minister or Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the United Kingdom would indeed issue a commemorative coin to mark the UK’s departure from the European Union.
The announcement was made after the delivery of the annual budget speech and many coin collectors were excited about the announcement. It was however the least of the country’s worries since many constitutional experts warned there would be a long period of negotiations ahead. On the day the Chancellor made the announcement, the story made headlines, the newspaper campaigning for such a keepsake claimed success with: “Persuading the Government to create an enduring gesture to mark Brexit as a landmark national moment”
The idea of a commemorative coin wasn’t so far-fetched and did have precedent. The second commemorative coin issued in the United Kingdom after decimalisation was in celebration of the country having joined the precursor to the European Union, the European Economic Community in 1973. Two more EU-themed coins would follow and all issued as the distinctive seven-sided 50 pence denomination. Coins dated 1992 were minted when Britain assumed the rotating European council presidency and another one for the same subject in 1998. That there would one final coin was perhaps on the minds of many coin collectors as the ultimate issue with an EU-theme would in some way bring the UK’s membership to a full circle so to speak.
Of course, the future release of commemorative coins focusing on Brexit essentially hangs on the ability of the United Kingdom to negotiate an eventual exit from the European Union, and actually leave. On two occasions, there have been much publicised delays in releasing the coin. Depending on the side of the political spectre – pro or anti-brexit, the delay of the coin is either exasperating or comical, and perhaps indicative of the state of negotiations as a whole. Blame the negotiators, the politicians, for heaven’s sake – blame the voters… all or none of the above. If we want to get down to the nitty-gritty, would blaming the designer of the reverse side of the coin be valid for including the proposed exit date? Well, aside from the sincere though uplifting message which features as part of the overall motif, the date of departure does feature in the design.
But, let’s have a look at the quote: “PEACE, PROSPERITY AND FRIENDSHIP WITH ALL NATIONS, 29 MARCH 2019” Then changed to… “31 OCTOBER 2019” A thoughtful sentiment borrowed from writings that partially quote America’s third president and author of the U.S. declaration of independence, Thomas Jefferson. Was this perhaps a subliminal message to Brussels or simply a message of friendship – nothing more?
Because the coins included the actual date of Britain’s departure, the event would have to take place in order for the coin to be relevant and not an expensive (some say very collectable) numismatic error. Enter Boris Johnson, former boisterous Mayor of London who succeeded Theresa May as Prime Minister in July of this year. Promising to deliver Brexit by the 31st October 2019 and as a gesture of good faith, he instructed the Treasury to begin production of an estimated three million coin keepsakes in earnest. The Royal Mint assured the Treasury the bulk of the much publicised and elusive Brexit coins would be available in time for release on the day. In early October, it was all-go at the Royal Mint who had proposed to produce at least one million coins, and on time. When the Johnson government advised Brussels they were officially requesting yet another and further extension to Brexit, the brakes were duly applied on this numismatic project once again. The British Treasury through a press release advised the public that the significant quantity of 50 pence Brexit coins carrying the 31 October date were all melted down – just before their official release date.
With that date having now been extended for a third time – to the 31st January 2020 and after the UK holds another general election, is it possible these coins may actually see the light of day? Well, perhaps it may be third time lucky but it’s anyone’s guess and many won’t be holding their breath. Would anyone want to place a bet on some of these elusive error coins surfacing in the future – perhaps even before the official Brexit coins, and for staggering sums? Keep your eye on the prize, and on those popular on-line auction websites!
The author, Michael Alexander, is president of the London Banknote and Monetary Research Centre.
Cook Islands issued a commemorative Brexit coin in 2016 already. The date was no problem as only the referendum date was given.
Of course, you have to laugh about Brexit or you just won’t stand it. So this is a perfect subject for Claire Franklin’s cartoons. Remember this one, also published right after the referendum?
And don’t miss this week’s Cartoon on the same subject!