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Fascinating history of the Chancellor’s red Budget box – a 161 year tradition

2 min read

It's the image you will see on the front page of every newspaper tomorrow, and plastered over most websites this afternoon.

As the Chancellor starts dealing with the black hole in the public finances, many will wonder exactly what the red box he is clutching symbolises.

Rishi Sunak will be delivering the 2021 Budget this afternoon – and never has it been more important.

The old iconic box has so much history, with William Gladstone's original first used in 1860 – so 161 years on, why is it still used for every announcement in March?

Here's what the holding of the red box means and why is it still so important to the country.

What is in the red box?

When the Chancellor presents his budget later on, never will there be more interest in what's inside.

But it actually doesn't contain crucial papers – they are kept safely inside government offices.

The dispatch box which is used to tell Brits how money will be spent usually only contains the Chancellor's Budget speech.

It also has important notes for him to refer to and pointers for when speaking to the press.

Why is the Budget box used?

The little red briefcase has been used on this day for more than 160 years.

It has long been a symbol of the year's announcement at Downing Street.

Parliament explains: "The word Budget comes from an old French word ‘bougette’ meaning little bag.

"It was customary to bring the statement on financial policy to the House of Commons in a leather bag.

"The modern equivalent of the bag is the red despatch box or Budget box."

Is the original box still used?

It was until ten years ago when it became just too delicate.

The iconic Budget red box was produced in 1860 for William Gladstone, who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer before later becoming Prime Minister.

His original red Budget box was used by every UK Chancellor until 2011 – with the exception of James Callaghan and Gordon Brown. They both needed bigger ones.

A decade ago it was decided the box was too fragile now and a new one was commissioned by The National Archives

The original is due to be displayed in the Cabinet War Rooms in London.

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