Belfast rappers Kneecap to sue British government over decision to ‘block’ tour funding award

Hip hop group claims decision to veto funding is attempt to ‘silence’ them

The Belfast rap trio Kneecap have engaged lawyers to challenge a decision by the UK government to block a British Phonographic Industry (BPI) funding award.

The band accused the UK government of trying to “silence” them after it blocked the funding.

Phoenix Law in Belfast said it had been instructed by Kneecap to challenge the recent decision.

“On December 4th, 2023, our clients applied in their capacity as artists, for a grant under the Music Export Growth Scheme. Their application was shortlisted and approved by the panel,” their legal letter states.


“Thereafter, the minister for the department of business and trade took a decision to refuse the request for funding on the premise that our clients were ‘people that oppose the United Kingdom’. It is this decision to which is the subject of this proposed judicial review,” it says.

It was asserted that this decision was “unlawful and ought to be quashed”. Darragh Mackin is representing the group, with barristers Joe Brolly and Ronan Lavery instructed to pursue the case.

The funding decision placed the group at the centre of a controversy around freedom of artistic expression and arts funding.

A British government spokesperson said it was “hardly surprising” it had stopped the award given the group’s political opposition to the United Kingdom.

The funding, an award under the Music Export Growth Scheme (MEGS) to support the expansion of bands in global markets, had been signed off on by the BPI’s independent selection board.

The band alleges that a provocative 2019 tour poster is to blame, saying: “We’re told that our 2019 Farewell to the Union poster p*ssed off the Tories. Once again the British government is trying to silence voices from West Belfast – once again it will fail!”

The band, who sought the support for costs related to touring and live stage production in North America, concluded their statement with the message “fight censorship”, and congratulated the artists who received funding under the scheme.

The scheme is funded by the department for business and trade (DBT), the department for culture, media and sport (DCMS), with investment from the UK recorded music industry.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood submitted questions to business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch following her decision to defund the rap artists.

“It is highly irregular for a secretary of state to intervene to overturn the decision of an independent assessment board to award funding to an artist on the basis of their political aspirations,” Mr Eastwood said.

“It would be unacceptable if the British government had instituted a policy of defunding groups because they support Irish unity, Scottish independence, Welsh independence or any other change to the constitutional status quo,” he said.

“Worse, in the context of Northern Ireland, it may represent a breach of the British government’s obligations under the treaty signed after the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement which includes a commitment to exercise power on the basis of parity of esteem between communities in the North.”

Art is “meant to be challenging”, Mr Eastwood added, and it was not necessary to “agree with an artist or group to understand the importance of funding creators who challenge the status quo and the establishment”.

The BPI has also expressed its “disappointment” at the decision.

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Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times