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UK cities stunned as EU blocks European Capital of Culture bids

Leeds Town Hall – one of the UK cities that has submitted a bid for European Capital of Culture 2023
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Five British cities competing to be the European Capital of Culture in 2023 have been left reeling after it emerged the European Commission is to exclude them from the competition.

The bombshell comes less than a month after final submissions were made by Dundee, Leeds, Milton Keynes, Nottingham and a joint bid by Belfast, Derry and Strabane.

A letter sent by the commission to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU meant “the participation of the UK in the European Capital of Culture will not be possible”.

Expectations had been high that a British city would be selected for the first time since Liverpool in 2008. A judging panel had been due to convene next week to assess the British bids.

Responding to the decision, a DCMS spokesman said it: “disagrees with the European Commission’s stance and is deeply disappointed that it waited until after UK cities had submitted their final bids before communicating this new position”.

Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson said the decision was: “a great shame for the whole country”.

He said: “The government must explain how it intends to ensure 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”.

In a statement, the Creative Industries Federation said it was “gutted” by the decision.

“People are working feverishly behind the scenes to reverse this decision and the Federation stands ready to mediate between the European commission and the DCMS on this matter”.

Responding on social media, CIF deputy chief executive Rosie Millard said: “Gutted to learn [the European commission] has pulled the plug on UK hosting Capital of Culture 2023. Very sad for the five bidding cities. I am on the judging panel and have seen all their hard work”.

Hilary Benn, Labour MP for Leeds Central – which has spent £1 million on its bid, according to the BBC – described the announcement as a “terrible blow” and said the move was a “shoddy treatment of Leeds and the other cities that have worked so hard”.

Chris Law, SNP MP for Dundee West, tweeted: “My city of Dundee and our people are another casualty of Brexit. The people of my city have worked too hard for this bitter end”.

In a statement, Conservative MEP for the East Midlands, Rupert Matthews said he was “extremely angry” and pledged to challenge the decision.

Diane Dodds, DUP MEP for Northern Ireland, attacked the move as “needless and spiteful posturing by the commission”.

She said: “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”.

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