MPs urge Jean-Claude Juncker to withdraw ‘inexplicable’ UK capital of culture snub
MPs have written to Jean-Claude Juncker urging him to reverse the EU’s move to stop a British city from becoming the 2023 European capital of culture.
A cross-party group of members from across the five bidding cities hit out at the European Commission's decision to axe the UK from a contest they say is supposed to "bridge cultural and political divides".
They also branded the belated move "inexplicable", given it came after Leeds, Dundee, Nottingham, Milton Keynes and Belfast/Derry had submitted their final bids.
The letter, headed by Labour’s Rachel Reeves and backed by cross party MPs, suggested the “disappointing” snub could dampen both parties’ future relationship after Brexit.
But they say they are keen to "encourage" the EU to reconsider its position so that British entrants are not automatically blocked from the accolade - which they say was built on “cooperation, peace and prosperity” .
"Although the United Kingdom has chosen to leave the European Union, we have not left our shared values behind," they wrote.
"Parliament has always been clear that it wishes to remain close to the European Union and the exclusion of the United Kingdom from the bidding process is saddening.
"Having a capital of culture would be an excellent way of fostering this relationship ad continuing cooperation after Brexit."
The commission said it would not be possible for a UK city to win the title because only countries that were in the EU, the European Economic Area (EEA) or in the process of becoming members were eligible.
However the letter pointed to the fact that “no decision” has been made on Britain’s future relationship while it remained in the EU, before blasting the decision to make the ruling only when bids have been completed.
"We also find it inexplicable that the European Union waited until after the bids from the United Kingdom had been submitted before ruling them all ineligible, when it has been aware of the United Kingdom’s decision since June 2016," they added.
“Politics should not interfere with what is in many ways an event intended to bridge cultural and political divides.”
Last week ministers said they were “deeply disappointed” at the commission’s move and said the Government was in “urgent discussions” in an attempt to force a U-turn.
The MPs also wrote a similar letter to Culture Secretary Karen Bradley, urging her to work with Brussels officials to "encourage a resolution."
“The Government has been clear that it wants as close a relationship as possible with the European Union after we cease to be members," they added.
“This exclusion of the UK by the European Commission at this very late stage is not consistent with a continuing close relationship because it will prevent an excellent opportunity for cooperation and the celebration of shared values, something that all parties surely wish to encourage following Brexit.”
Read the full letters to the European Commission President, Mr Juncker, and Ms Bradley below: