Capital of Culture 2023 bid falls victim to Brexit

The fallout from Brexit continues to rattle the arts sector as it was announced last Thursday (23 November) that five British cities would be removed from the running for European Capital of Culture 2023.

Dundee, Nottingham, Leeds, Milton Keynes and Belfast/Derry had bid for the title before the European Commission reached the decision that they would no longer qualify. ‘Given that the UK will have left the EU by 29 March 2019, and therefore be unable to host the European Capital of Culture in 2023, we believe it makes common sense to discontinue the selection process now’, the Commission stated. According to competition rules, only EU Member States and countries in the European Free Trade Association/European Economic Area are eligible to vie for the title.

The decision was reached despite the fact that the plans for the UK to host a Capital of Culture in 2023 were announced in 2014. Following the Brexit referendum the UK government warned bidders that the competition may be subject to negotiations with the EU but that it would continue to ‘run as normal’.

The announcement from the European Commission comes as a blow to the bidding cities who have invested time, energy and money (£1 million has been spent by Leeds alone towards it bid). MPs and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have expressed their disappointment while the Creative Industries Federation, which represents the UK arts sector said it was ‘gutted’ by the decision.

A twitter storm responding to the announcement engulfed social media. Deputy leader of the Labour party, Tom Watson, tweeted that ‘the government must now explain how they intend to ensure that Brexit does not leave us culturally isolated from Europe’. Rosie Millard, deputy chief executive of the Creative Industries Foundation tweeted that she was ‘very sad for the 5 bidding cities’ having ‘seen all their hard work #Brexitfallout’.

In a statement, DCMS said it was in ‘urgent discussions’ with the Commission about the decision to end the UK’s running for the title and vowed it would work with the bidders to ‘help them realise their cultural ambitions’.

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’, the statement reads.

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