Brexit puts Belfast-Londonderry European City of Culture bid in jeopardy

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Belfast and Londonderry’s joint bid to be named European Capital of Culture in 2023 appears to have been scuppered in a move which has been branded “petty and spiteful”.

It seems the high-profile bid – launched in July by the Lord Mayor of Belfast Nuala McAllister and Derry City and Strabane District Council Mayor Maoliosa McHugh – has become an unexpected casualty of Brexit.

The revelation emerged in a letter from the European Commission to the government, which has been published by the website Politico.

The correspondence indicates that cities within the UK will not be allowed to host the event.

It states: “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.”

Expressing her outrage at the decision, DUP MEP Diane Dodds said it was “needless and spiteful posturing by the Commission”.

Highlighting that the scheme is open to non-EU members, she added: “In spite of the assurances that they will not act in malice or attempt to punish the UK, here we have an example of the schoolboy pettiness we have come to expect from Brussels.”

She also criticised the Commision for “waiting until the UK’s cities spent considerable money and resources on before making this decision”, adding that this “demonstrates the malevolent intentions of those involved”.

A Belfast City Council spokesperson said it was seeking “urgent clarification” on the matter, adding: “We are, however, deeply disappointed with this recent development, but are committed to ensuring that the time, energy, enthusiasm, ideas and resources put into our bid are carried forward regardless.”

Retail NI has expressed also disappointment with the decision of the European Commission Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said the title of European Capital of Culture “would be a game changer, not just for our two main cities, but also potentially for our wider NI economy”.

He urged the government to challenge the “unfair decision” and called on the European Commission to “think again”.