Belfast City council 'deeply disappointed' at recent development
Belfast and Londonderry's taxpayer-backed joint bid to be named European Capital of Culture may not be allowed due to the UK's exit from the EU.
The cities launched a high-profile bid 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, published by the website Politico, a city within the UK will not be allowed to host the event, following the vote for Brexit.
The letter, which is from the European Commission, 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”.
It has not yet been revealed how much has been jointly spent on the bid.
Belfast City Council said it is "deeply disappointed" with the recent development and that they are seeking "urgent clarification".
"We are aware that DCMS is still in discussions with the European Commission on behalf of all five cities involved and are seeking urgent clarification on the matter", a Belfast City Council spokeswoman said.
"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.
"It is still our intention to ensure our cultural ambitions are realised and will be in discussion with DCMS and Derry City and Strabane District Council in the coming days."
DUP MEP Diane Dodds said it is "needless and spiteful posturing by the Commission".
"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.
"Belfast's bid has been built upon renewing and building on the foundations of the peace process, breaking down barriers and showing communities where culture is often contested that what unites them is greater than what divides.
"Peacebuilding in Northern Ireland is something that Europe has often enjoyed associating itself with, claiming credit for and even using as a bargaining chip in negotiations.
"Yet there is clearly scant consideration for the benefits this opportunity would have presented to Belfast and Londonderry to consolidate the peace."
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it was "deeply disappointing" and has written to the EU Commission "to ask that we are treated as a special case".
He said: “The news that the European Commission has written to the British Government to state that a British City cannot be a European Capital of Culture in 2023 is bitter blow for the joint bid from Belfast and Derry.
“This is deeply disappointing for the people of the two cities and for those who have worked so hard to progress the joint bid.
“The SDLP has today written directly to the EU Commission to ask that we are treated as a special case. I’ve also made contact with the Irish Government to ask for their immediate intervention with the EU Commission to ask that the bid for the two cities on the island of Ireland can proceed.
“The SDLP long warned that Brexit would lead to economic instability and prevent growth in our communities, that reality has now hit home.
“The people of the North voted to remain, they voted to protect their socio-economic needs. We must unite and face down the DUP/Tory Brexiteers to protect Ireland’s interests."
Sinn Fein councillor Jim McVeigh has called on Europe to recognise that the bid "should not be excluded".
He said: "The decision to exclude the bid of Belfast, Derry and Strabane from the European Capital of Culture decisions is wrong and short sighted.
“It is yet another example of the disaster that Brexit continues to be for Ireland.
“In 2008 the Liverpool economy benefited to the tune of close to a billion pounds and visitor numbers increased by 34%.
“The potential of this for Belfast, Derry and Strabane in 2023 is now gone and the DUP, the Tories and other local pro-Brexit parties need to bear the blame.
“It highlights clearly the need for Designated Special Status within the EU for the north of Ireland.
“If this decision is allowed to stand it will have a massive negative impact on our tourism and hospitality sector and will affect the potential creation of a huge number of jobs.
“Every effort must be made to overturn this decision and Sinn Féin will play its part in opposing this decision.
“It is now incumbent upon businesses, tourism organisations and the public to stand up and speak out for special status and against those whose support for Brexit is causing serious economic damage to the economy.”
Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said the decision needed to be challenged.
Mr Roberts said: "Retail NI is a strong supporter for Belfast and Derry to secure the title of European City of Culture. To have achieved this would be a game changer, not just for our two main cities, but also potentially for our wider NI economy.
“Previous experience shows that securing the European Capital of Culture title can act as a catalyst to supporting the social, cultural, economic and physical regeneration of the wider region
‘We urge the UK Government to challenge this unfair decision and for the European Commission to think again."