Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland party pleads 'special case' in European Capital of Culture row

News that the UK can no longer host the 2023 European Capital of Culture because of Brexit has been described as a "bitter blow" to Belfast and Londonderry, which had submitted a joint bid for the title.

The two Northern Ireland cities had entered an application along with Strabane town to share the accolade, backed by a high profile campaign launched in July.

Five UK cities are in the running in total, including Nottingham and Leeds.

The Capital of Culture accolade is appointed to a different European city each year on rotation. Selection is highly sought after as the title can boost tourism for the chosen cities.

The UK was selected as the host nation for 2023, with the decision made prior to the country's vote to leave the EU.

The Belfast-Derry bid has previously insisted that Brexit will not impact on their candidacy as three non-EU cities have held the title before.

But a letter published by the website Politico states that the European Commission has now written to the UK Government to inform them that British cities are no longer eligible in light of the country's vote to leave the EU.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood 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 a bitter blow for the joint bid from Belfast and Derry."

He added: "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."

DUP MEP Diane Dodds criticised the news, saying in a statement: "This 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.

"Indeed to have waited until the UK's cities spent considerable money and resources before making this decision demonstrates the malevolent intentions of those involved."

In a statement, Belfast City Council said: "We are aware that the Department for Culture 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.

"It is still our intention to ensure our cultural ambitions are realised and will be in discussion with DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) and Derry City and Strabane District Council in the coming days."

Meanwhile, Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Tom Watson described the commission's decision as a "great shame".

He said: "Some cities have already spent up to £500,000 on their bid submissions.

"Being the Capital of Culture had a transformative effect in Glasgow and Liverpool, fuelling regeneration, tourism and community pride. That opportunity has now been taken away from the bidding cities.

"The Government must now explain how they intend to ensure that Brexit does not leave us culturally isolated from Europe and how the economic and cultural benefits that accompany the European capital of culture will be maintained."

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