Belfast and Derry queried Brexit impact on European Capital of Culture
BELFAST and Derry were unable to receive assurances from the British government that their joint bid to become European Capital of Culture would be safe from Brexit, internal correspondence shows.
In November, Brussels confirmed that the UK's turn to host the title in 2023 was being cancelled because it is leaving the European Union.
Belfast and Derry-Strabane councils had spent £350,000 on their joint pitch in the months before the European Commission confirmed they would no longer be eligible to apply.
Correspondence obtained by The Irish News now shows how council bosses back in July questioned whether Brexit would scupper the project.
The British government did not give any guarantees, instead saying it accepts "no responsibility for the financial investment made by cities and councils".
A joint letter was sent to officials at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) from Belfast council chief executive Suzanne Wylie and Derry chief executive John Kelpie.
They wrote: "Given the level of financial commitment involved in bidding as well as significant engagement with local citizens can DCMS provide an up-to-date position on the 2023 designation in the context of Brexit negotiations?
"In particular has a formal agreement been reached with the European Commission that the UK city designated as European Capital of Culture 2023 will be accepted by the EU regardless of the outcome of these negotiations?"
In response, a DCMS official said: "Our position has not changed and I refer you to our statement."
The statement said the UK is "still a full and active member of the EU" and so the Capital of Culture competition would "run as normal".
However, it added that Brexit negotiations "could have a bearing on the UK's participation and the government will advise on this once negotiations have concluded".
"As is usual with cultural programmes and competitions the UK government bears no responsibility for the financial investment made by cities and councils," it said.
The correspondence was obtained by The Irish News through a Freedom of Information request.
The European Capital of Culture title is rotated around European countries, and it was set to be the UK's turn in 2023.
A joint pitch from Belfast and Derry-Strabane councils was among five bids for the title including Nottingham and Leeds.
Cork was the last Irish city to be a European Capital of Culture, in 2005, while Galway will take on the mantle in 2020.
In 2013, Derry became the first ever UK City of Culture – an initiative created by the British government because of the "economic benefits" experienced by Liverpool when it was European Capital of Culture in 2008.
In November, the European Commission said the UK no longer being eligible was "one of the many concrete consequences" of leaving the EU.
It said the only countries eligible were EU member states, candidates to join the EU or countries in EFTA/EEA that participate in the Creative Europe programme.
DCMS said it disagreed, and that the department was in "urgent discussions" with the commission.