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£350,000 spent on Brexit botched Belfast and Derry European Capital of Culture bid

By John Mulgrew

Around £350,000 has already been spent on a botched Brexit-scuppered ratepayer-funded bid for Belfast and Londonderry to become European Capital of Culture.

The cities launched a high-profile bid — backed by Hollywood stars such as Liam Neeson, Roma Downey and Jamie Dornan,  to secure the title for 2023 — which was unveiled back in July by the Lord Mayor of Belfast Nuala McAllister and Derry City and Strabane District Council Mayor Maoliosa McHugh.

But according to a letter from the European Commission, a city within the UK will not be allowed to host the event, following the vote for Brexit.

The letter says that “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”.

Belfast City Council had committed £500,000 towards staging the bid, with Derry Council putting in £300,000.

A spokeswoman for both councils said: “We can confirm that Belfast City Council and Derry City and Strabane District Council have spent a total of £350,000 to date out of a total budget of £800,000.”

That cash covers costs associated with the bid development including staffing, consultancy, business case development, engagement process, marketing, public relations and bid design and production”.

A statement from Belfast City Council and Derry Council said it was "deeply disappointed" with the recent development and that they are seeking "urgent clarification".

"We are aware that Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) is still in discussions with the European Commission on behalf of all five cities involved and are seeking urgent clarification on the matter.

"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.”

But the councils said it remains their intention to ensure our cultural ambitions are realised and will be in discussion with DCMS”  and each other, in the coming days.

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