City experts have criticised Boris Johnson’s speech about Peppa Pig over suggestions it was bought by a US company at the height of Brexit uncertainty.
In his speech to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) on Monday, Boris Johnson praised the cartoon for demonstrating “the power of UK creativity”.
“Peppa Pig World is very much my kind of place,” he told business leaders – in reference to a visit to the Hampshire theme park he made with his wife and youngest son the day before.
He applauded the cartoon franchise for being “exported to 180 countries”, including amusement parks in the US and China.
But despite being the brainchild of three independent British animators, Neville Astley, Mark Baker and Phil Davies, its Canadian parent company Entertainment One was sold to US giant Hasbro in 2019.
In March this year, the Astley Baker Davies studio also announced they would no longer be producing the show, which has been guaranteed until 2027.
The acquisition of Peppa Pig by Hasbro, which owns My Little Pony and Play-Doh, was the biggest in its history.
It paid £3.3bn for the takeover – three times the £1bn offer ITV made Entertainment One in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote in mid-2016.
The Hasbro purchase came in August 2019, two months after Mr Johnson became prime minister, when the pound fell by record levels amid Brexit uncertainty.
Merlin Entertainments, which set up in Scotland in 1979 and runs three Peppa Pig World of Play parks in the US, was also bought by a consortium of overseas owners, including the Danish owners of Lego, at that time.
City experts have previously commented that several overseas takeovers of UK companies, including Greene King and Just Eat, were partly driven by Mr Johnson entering Downing Street and fears of a no-deal Brexit.
“The post-Brexit weakness of the pound has been an attraction to overseas business,” Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, told Sky News.
Commenting on the PM’s reference to Peppa Pig, which was described as “shambolic” by Labour, he said: “It was owned by a Canadian company, which has been bought by a US giant. Those are the facts.
“There’s no doubt the UK has a phenomenal record in the creative industries – but it probably wasn’t the example he would use given the chance again.”
Robert Haigh, strategy and insights director at Brand Finance, also commented on the “inability of the UK to scale its intellectual property-based businesses”.
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“You could say we have the capacity to develop world-challenging brands that are loved across the globe, particularly in the media and creative industries, but don’t seem to be able to scale them onto a world-beating level,” he said.
Commenting on the effect of the 2019 fears of a no-deal, he added: “I think it’s pretty unarguable that the drop in value of the pound made UK assets attractive to acquire.
“And Boris Johnson’s political decision to push ahead with Brexit will have impacted that to some extent.”
But he said: “On the other hand, you could argue it’s created more of a market attraction to the UK as a place where real quality brands are nurtured, bolstering its reputation.”
Since Astley Baker Davies stepped down this year, Peppa Pig has been produced by Karrot Entertainment – the creators of the BBC children’s programme Sarah and Duck.
Previously it was co-produced between the UK and Canada.
A Downing Street spokesman said of Mr Johnson’s speech: “He’s given hundreds of speeches. I don’t think it’s unusual for people on rare occasions to lose their place.”
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