A controversial Brexit mural in Dover has mysteriously disappeared without a trace over the weekend. Many have described the loss as “cultural vandalism” and “an absolute tragedy.”

Created by Banksy in May 2017, the mural depicted a labourer chiselling off a star from the EU flag. It attracted the attention of the media around the world and became an instant hit with tourists visiting the port city on the English Channel.

Local residents have condemned its sudden disappearance with many taking to social media to express their disbelief. “I would like to deplore the obliteration of our Banksy. Cultural vandalism of the highest order,” exclaimed one Twitter user.

On Saturday the Banksy painting was covered with four-tiers of scaffolding and reports began circulating by Monday that workers had covered the mural with white paint.

Deal Scaffolding, the contractors brought in to cover up the three-story graffiti, admitted they were “unaware of any specific purpose” for the building work.

The dilapidated building on which the Brexit-inspired artwork resides was due to be demolished two years ago. Some are now questioning whether the official owners of the building, the Godden family, had anything to do with the hasty installation.

When Banksy’s mural first appeared, the Goddens revealed they were “exploring options for the retention, removal or sale,” of the artwork and they “will look to benefit local charities with proceeds from any sale of the piece.”

This is not the first time that the property-mogul family has clashed with the infamous street artist. In 2015, the Goddens lost a High Court battle after removing another Banksy which had appeared in Folkestone, and attempting to sell it in the US. Boodle Hatfield acted for The Creative Foundation in the case, to recover the Banksy which was subsequently returned to Folkestone.

Although a spokesperson for the city council denied knowledge about the mural’s fate, Dover MP Charlie Elphicke has been particularly outspoken about its loss.

Very disappointed by the disappearance of the Dover Banksy,” wrote Elphicke on Twitter about the “culturally iconic statement on our times.” The MP also disclosed that his team had “asked Historic England to use their powers to protect this work but they refused. This is the result. They should hang their heads in shame.

Other Dover residents, however, have been less enraged by the removal of the Banksy: “You can’t keep a building just cause it’s suddenly got a work of art on it, it is still an eye saw [sic].”

It remains to be seen whether the mural has been painted over or, in fact, removed for sale like the Folkestone piece. The unexpected entombment might even be a carefully planned ruse by Banksy himself, an artist who is renowned for his outrageous stunts.