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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

British cities’ dismay as EU withdraws right to enter cultural event

The country was due to provide the venue for the Capital of Culture annual project in 2023

Stormont Castle in Belfast; the Northern Irish capital had been in the bidding for the 2023 Capital of Culture designation. AFP/Paul Faith
Stormont Castle in Belfast; the Northern Irish capital had been in the bidding for the 2023 Capital of Culture designation. AFP/Paul Faith

The latest blowback from Britain’s decision to leave the European Union in 2019 became apparent on Thursday when the EU decided to remove the country from the long-running European Capital of Culture event.

Britain was due to hold the title in 2023, and five British cities and regions were competing to be chosen – Nottingham, Leeds and Milton Keynes in England, Dundee in Scotland and a joint bid by Belfast, Londonderry and Strabane in Northern Ireland.

Due to Britain’s decision to leave the bloc in 2019, its participation “will not be possible”, the European Commission declared. It said the decision was “one of the many concrete consequences” of Brexit.

Britain had previously advised told candidate cities that their eligibility would depend on the outcome of exit negotiations with the EU, which are still underway.

The capital of culture designation is an EU project but cities in non-member states such as Norway, Iceland and Turkey have held the title, and Novi Sad, in aspirant member Serbia, has been awarded the accolade for 2021.

Designation as a capital of culture typically brings attention, investment and a tourism boost to the host cities.

Britain’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said it was “deeply disappointed” by the EU decision and was holding “urgent discussions with the commission on the matter.”

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was “absolutely dismayed by the news” and blamed Theresa May’s Conservative government. The UK voted narrowly by a margin of 52-48 to leave the EU in a referendum in June 2016, but Scotland voted by a wide margin to remain.

“Dundee’s European Capital of Culture bid looks as if it is going to be the latest victim of the Tories’ obsession with taking this country out of the European Union against our will, and they should hang their heads in shame,” Sturgeon said.#

Rupert Matthews, Tory MEP for the East Midlands area which encompasses Nottingham, instead voiced his anger at the EU.

“I am extremely angry that the European Commission has taken the unfair and unjustified decision to exclude UK cities including Nottingham from bidding to become the European City of Culture in 2023.

“Time, effort and money have all been put into this process by local individuals, businesses and public bodies, only to be wasted if this very poor decision is allowed to stand. Nottingham has a very strong bid and I am outraged that all the hard work will have been for nothing,” said Mr Matthews, who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU.

Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn, a former Labour shadow foreign secretary, said the news was “a terrible blow to Leeds’s great bid for 2023 which has gathered so much support from across the city”.

“It is also inexplicable given that in the past Bergen and Istanbul have both been awarded the title even though neither Turkey nor Norway are members of the European Union,” he added.

“The European Commission must now explain why it has decided to engage in blatant discrimination against the bid from Leeds.”