The UK political landscape in April 2022 was a completely different place for Rishi Sunak.
He was a chancellor who had enjoyed unusual popularity thanks to his support for workers during the pandemic only to fall into an unenviable position.
The country was facing the devastating economic fallout from covid-19, Vladimir Putin had invaded Ukraine, and the biggest drop in living standards since records began was looming large.
The tables were turning against the chancellor who was criticized for not doing enough to support the poorest in his spring statement.
So it was no wonder that when he went “crypto bro” with us in April, they accused the government of being “out of touch.”
As millions struggled financially, Sunak announced measures for the notoriously unregulated cryptocurrency sector, which features incredibly volatile currencies.
“It is my ambition to make the UK a global hub for crypto asset technology,” he said.
The statement in the announcement was that Sunak had instructed the 1,136-year-old Royal Mint to issue a fashionable non-fungible token for the summer.
NFTs can be anything digital, like a drawing or music, but each is a unique “one-of-a-kind” asset, like a famous painting.
They are stored on a blockchain, the same decentralized ledger of transactions used to buy and sell cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.
The crypto phenomenon has become all the rage among celebrities, most recently supermodel Bella Hadid joining the metaverse with an NFT collection called CY-B3LLA, featuring artwork based on 3D scans of her body.
Artist Damien Hirst is also dabbling in NFTs, announcing that he will be burning thousands of his paintings as part of his year-long NFT project, titled The Currency.
Buyers who purchased one of the 10,000 NFTs for £1,600 each were asked to choose whether to keep it or exchange it for the physical labor. If the former, the painting will now be put on display before being burned.
However, critics of NFTs say that the tokens are fundamentally worthless, unregulated, and that fraud and scams are a risk.
Given the large number of computers needed to continuously run a blockchain, they argue that NFTs are also bad for the environment.
Since the Treasury announcement, there has been a huge drop in cryptocurrencies and Sunak has left the government along with other key backers.
Sunak is now locked in a battle with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to become the next Tory leader and prime minister. His team has been contacted for comment.
Treasury originally said the NFT would be issued this summer, but little has been said about the initiative.
Four months since it was announced, the public is no wiser.
Details of the project remain largely unknown and the government has never specified which image or object the Royal Mint NFT would grant ownership of.
But there’s a new Treasury team in town, led by former vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi, so HuffPost UK sent them a series of questions about the NFT.
We also filed a Freedom of Information request, asking how much taxpayer cash was being spent on the project.
Treasury’s FoI team confirmed they had the information, but refused to disclose how much they were spending on the NFT.
They said the plans were still “in development” and that ministers and officials “need space” in which the plans could be refined.
Meanwhile, the Treasury press office remained coy about the plans, insisting they were still underway but unable to confirm when.
A Treasury source said it was still “intent” to issue an NFT this summer, but could not be more specific.
Treasury Labor Party shadow economic secretary Tulip Siddiq accused the government of “wasting time and money on an NFT stunt”.
He said the Conservatives should “come clean” on how much taxpayer money had been “thrown down the drain” and described the lack of transparency as “shocking”.
“With the value of cryptocurrencies in free fall, the government must abandon its relaxed attitude towards crypto regulation and introduce a comprehensive regulatory regime for the sector,” he said.
“The conservative approach to cryptocurrency in the Wild West has put millions of people’s savings at risk and cryptocurrency-related crime in the UK, such as fraud and money laundering, is now at record levels.”
He also said that without proper regulation, the UK risked falling behind global competitors in FinTech such as the EU and the US.
The Royal Mint kept quiet saying they were “continuing” to develop their first NFT range and would share more details “in due course”.
They did not answer a question about when it would be released.
It comes after Crypto experienced one of the worst market crashes the new industry has ever witnessed, which saw popular currency Bitcoin plummet.
In a speech last month, Bank of England Deputy Governor Sir Jon Cunliffe said that most cryptocurrencies “have no intrinsic value” and are “inherently volatile, highly vulnerable to sentiment and prone to crashes.”
However, Treasury confirmed that it was still “firmly committed” to its plans to create an NFT.
A Treasury spokesman said: “We are strongly committed to putting the UK at the forefront of crypto asset technology and innovation by capitalizing on the freedoms gained by leaving the European Union.
“Our framework will support the safe adoption of cryptocurrencies while giving regulators the agility to respond to market developments, support innovation and protect consumers.
“Our upcoming Financial Markets and Services Bill will set out the framework for regulating stablecoins in the UK and we will be consulting on a world-leading regime for the rest of the crypto market later this year.”