Dundee's European culture capital bid sunk by Brexit 'bombshell'

Dundee has spent years preparing a bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023.
Dundee has spent years preparing a bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023.
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Dundee’s hopes of being crowned European City of Culture in 2023 appeared dead in the water today - due to the Brexit vote.

The European Commission has pulled the plug on the UK’s right to host the title - despite the Westminster Government launching its official competition late last year.

Leaders of Dundee's bid described the surprise move - which came just days before a crucial pitch to judges - as "a bombshell", while First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was "absolutely dismayed" that the time, effort and expense of the bid looks as if it has been wasted due to the looming Brexit.

Dundee was competing against Nottingham, Leeds, Milton Keynes and Belfast/Derry for the honour, which would have seen a £40 million programme of events staged in the city.

A £128 m boost for the economy and around 16,000 new jobs were predicted to be generated by Dundee’s bid, which was billed as a “once in a generation showcase for Scotland’s creative and cultural talent."

Dundee had been preparing a bid since 2013, when it lost out to Hull in the race to be named UK City of Culture this year.

There was huge uncertainty over Dundee's bid in the wake of the Brexit referendum decision in June 2016, amid fears that the UK Government would renege on a commitment to host the title in 2023.

Those doubts appear to have been dispelled last December when the UK Culture Secretary, Karen Bradley, fired the starting gun on a nationwide competition, declaring: "The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. We want that relationship to reflect the kind of mature, cooperative relationship that close friends and allies enjoy."

The official website for the competition warned that Brexit negotiations "could have a bearing" on the UK's participation in the European Capital of Culture awards process.

The European Commission has effectively now banned the UK from hosting the title - despite it being hosted by three non-EU cities in the past - Reykjavik in 2000, Stavanger in 2008, and Istanbul in 2010.

Martine Reicherts, director-general of the European Commission’s education and culture department, has told the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: “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 action will not be possible.

“As a consequence of the above, and also on grounds of sound and responsible management of human and financial resources, the commission considers that the selection process should immediately be discontinued.”

A spokesman for the Dundee 2023 bid said: "We are hugely disappointed at this decision that has come just days before the Dundee bid team was due to travel to London to make its pitch.

“The timing is disrespectful not only to the citizens of Dundee, but to people from all five bidding cities who have devoted so much time, effort and energy so far in this competition.

“It’s a sad irony that one of the key drivers of our bid was a desire to further enhance our cultural links with Europe.

“We are hugely appreciative of the messages of support that are flooding in from around the world, particularly from our UNESCO city partners

“We are seeking urgent meetings with the UK and Scottish Governments to discuss how the enthusiasm and imagination of Dundee’s bid can be taken forward.

“Dundee will also be talking to its Tay Cities region partners, who are such strong supporters of Dundee’s cultural ambitions, and to Scotland’s local authorities who have also backed Dundee’s efforts to become European Capital of Culture 2023.

“Dundee’s bold bid was designed to help continue the transformation of our economy and to provide exciting new opportunities for our young people.

“While the dust is still to settle on what is a bombshell for all of us, the spirit of the bid remains very much alive and kicking.”

Speaking at First Minister's Questions, Ms Sturgeon said: "I am absolutely dismayed by the news from the European Commission that Dundee's bid looks as if it is going to be latest victim of the Tories' obsession with taking this country out of the Europe Union against its will. They should hang their heads in shame.

"It is deeply concerning that the amount of time, effort and expense that Dundee has put into scoping out its bid could be wasted thanks to the Brexit policy of the Tory Government.

"We are now in urgent contact with the UK Government and Dundee to understand the potential implications of this situation and establish what action the UK Government is going to take to address it.

"I call on the Government to make clear why this has happened and how they intend to fix it so that Dundee can continue to aspire to be the European Capital of Culture that it so richly deserves to be."

A spokeswoman for the DCMS said: "We disagree with the European Commission's stance and are deeply disappointed that it has waited until after UK cities have submitted their final bids before communicating this new position to us.

"The Prime Minister has been clear that while we are leaving the EU, we are not leaving Europe and this has been welcomed by EU leaders.

"We want to continue working with our friends in Europe to promote the long-term economic development of our continent, which may include participating in cultural programmes.

We remain committed to working with the five UK cities that have submitted bids to help them realise their cultural ambitions and we are in urgent discussions with the European Commission on the matter.”