UK Cities’ Hopes Dashed to Be a European Capital of Culture Post-Brexit

The European Commission has confirmed the UK will not be considered in the European Capital of Culture 2023 competition.

Banksy mural depicting a workman chipping away at one of the stars on a European Union flag in Dover. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images.

Five UK cities were disappointed to learn this week that the European Commission has decided that “Brexit means Brexit,” including being the European Capital of Culture.

The honor, which has been bestowed on cities since 1985, allows them to get special arts and culture funding from the EU. Two UK cities have made the grade: Liverpool in 2008 and Glasgow in 1990. They look set to be the last as Britain looks certain to divorce from the EU. It is due to leave by March 29, 2019.

Cities in both the UK and Hungary were due to be awarded the title in 2023, although the UK government has acknowledged previously that the contest “may be subject to the outcome of [the] exit negotiations.”

Indeed, the dream of becoming European capital of culture in 2023 has been dashed for the cities of Dundee in Scotland, the English cities of Nottingham, Leeds, and Milton Keynes, together with a joint bid by Belfast and Londonderry in Northern Ireland. They all launched their bids to much fanfare before the end of October.

A letter obtained by the website POLITICO from Martine Reicherts, the director-general at the European Commission’s education and culture department, laid out the reasoning for the UK not being able to host the European Union action in 2023.

Writing to Sue Owens, the permanent secretary at the UK’s department of digital, culture, media and sport, Reicherts wrote: “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.”

Three non-EU cities have previously held the title: Istanbul in 2010, Stavanger in 2008, and Reykjavik in 2000.

An irate Tweet from the official Leave account was quick to point this out, calling the news “pathetically childish.” However, it should be noted that Turkey has been officially recognized as a candidate for full membership of the EU since 1999, and Norway and Iceland are both EEA and EFTA States.

The winner of the European Capital of Culture competition will be announced before the end of the year.


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