Brexit: EU cancels Britain's hosting of European capital of culture

UK decision to pursue hard Brexit outside EEA blamed

Jon Stone
Thursday 23 November 2017 11:15
EU cancels Britain’s hosting of European capital of culture

Britain will not be allowed to host the European Capital of Culture as planned in 2023 after Brexit, despite the scheme being open to countries that aren’t in the EU, Brussels has said.

The UK had been scheduled to host the capital in 2023, with candidate cities including Leeds, Dundee, Nottingham, Milton Keynes and Belfast/Derry having prepared bids at taxpayers’ expense.

However the European Commission, which administers the scheme, said in a letter to the British Government reported by Politico Europe that UK access would be “discontinued” following the Brexit vote.

“After consulting relevant services of the Commission, I would like to inform you that following its withdrawal from the European Union, the participation of the United Kingdom in the European Capital of Culture Union action will not be possible,” the letter, from EU director-general for Education and Culture, Martine Reicherts, said.

The letter was sent to Sue Owens, the top civil servant at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

A spokesperson for DCMS said the Government was “disappointed” that the Commission had only informed the UK of the cancellation after bids for the prize had been submitted. She added that the Government was in “urgent” talks with the Commission about the matter.

Spokespeople for the Dundee 2023 and Leeds 2023 bids both said they were seeking “urgent clarification” from DCMS.

Paul Russ, chair of the Nottingham 2023 bid, said that “regardless of any outcomes we will work to implement as many of the positive actions” planned as part of the bid.

Cities designated capitals of culture benefit from the title, in that they can bid for European funding for arts and cultural projects. The programme has been credited with fostering urban regeneration and raising cities’ international profiles.

Donald Tusk says Brexit can still be stopped

Theresa May’s decision to pursue a hard Brexit and leave the European Economic Area (EEA) and single market appears to be responsible for the cancellation of the UK’s hosting. Previous countries to host the capital outside the EU include Iceland and Norway, both of which are in the EEA.

Dundee was also in the running for the title (Eric Niven/Flickr, CC BY-SA)

The letter cites EU regulation 445/2014/EU that says that only members of the EEA and countries which are candidates to join the EU can participate.

The UK’s 2023 hosting would have followed Glasgow in 1990 and Liverpool in 2008. The programme originated in 1985, with countries sharing the capital title on a rotating basis. Since the year 2000 two cities have simultaneously held the honour; the UK city would have cohabited with a city in Hungary, according to the agreed schedule.

Nottingham had hoped to win the 2023 crown and had prepared a bid (Getty)

The websites for the individual UK cities’ bids are still live, though the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport website does warn that the programme is “subject to the outcome of exit negotiations which have a bearing on the UK’s participation”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport told The Independent: “We disagree with the European Commission’s stance and are deeply disappointed that it has waited until after UK cities have submitted their final bids before communicating this new position to us.

“The Prime Minister has been clear that while we are leaving the EU, we are not leaving Europe and this has been welcomed by EU leaders.

“We want to continue working with our friends in Europe to promote the long-term economic development of our continent, which may include participating in cultural programmes. We remain committed to working with the five UK cities that have submitted bids to help them realise their cultural ambitions and we are in urgent discussions with the Commission on the matter.”

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