A decision by the European Commission to cancel the UK’s turn to host the European Capital of Culture after Brexit has been likened to “throwing toys out of a very big cot”.
Rosie Millard told BBC Newsnight that the Commission’s decision ending Dundee, Nottingham, Leeds, Milton Keynes and Belfast/Derry’s bid to hold the title in 2023, was unnecessary.
“This is the European Commission throwing their toys out of a very big European-shaped cot, frankly, you know, they didn’t need to do this,” the chair of Hull UK City of Culture 2017 said.
“This is one of the joys. This is a joyous thing in Hull people are walking around... it is a joyous event.”
The commission said on Thursday that the UK will no longer be eligible to have a host city after it leaves the EU in 2019.
The Creative Industries Federation, for which Millard is the deputy CEO, said it was “gutted”, while arts minister John Glen called it a “crazy decision”.
However, many commentators pointed out that the risk of the Commission ending the UK’s eligibility was well known last year.
The call for entries was made in December 2016, after the June 23 EU referendum but the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) did warn on its website that “bidding cities should be aware that the ECOC [European Capital of Culture] title may be subject to the outcome of exit negotiations which have a bearing on the UK’s participation”.
Millard conceded this on Newsnight... to a point.
“It must have been in their risk register at some point,” Millard said, having earlier made a point of showing host Evan Davis “the beautiful books” bidders had made in preparation.
“They must have had this anxiety that this could happen, but never quite believed it could happen,” she added.
The Leeds bid has cost £1m over the past four years - £200,000 from the city council and £800,000 from private funders, the BBC reported.
Hilary Benn, MP for Leeds Central and head of the House of Commons Select Committee for leaving the EU, told the broadcaster: “This is a terrible blow and has come completely out of the blue.”
Despite Millard saying those living in Hull were jubilant over their culture status, the city backed Brexit.
The DCMS has said the government is in “urgent discussions” with the Commission about the decision.
A statement added: “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,” a statement said.
“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.”
But the rules are quite clear - some of the outrage was directed at the fact two countries not in the EU have been bestowed the honour in the past - Istanbul, Turkey in 2010 and Bergen, Norway in 2000.
The reason these two cities were allowed to enter is because the competition is open to “cities in EFTA/EEA countries, candidate countries and potential candidates for EU membership”.
Norway is a EFTA/EEA member country and Turkey has long been a potential candidate for EU membership, negotiations began in 2005 and are ongoing.
After Brexit the UK will be neither, at least in the immediate term.
All of that appeared to be lost on a number of outraged Brexiteers including Nigel Farage and the Leave.EU campaign.
Dundee 2023 issued a statement following the announcement saying it was “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 read.
In a blog for HuffPost, Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson detailed how becoming a European Capital of Culture in 2008 was a “transformative experience for Liverpool”.
“Not only did it offer a stage to show the world the creative brilliance of our city, but it led to real, bottom-line benefits in terms of our visitor economy and improvements to our infrastructure,” he said, before saying the Commission’s decision to end the UK’s eligibility was “a shame”.
Anderson said Liverpool saw 9.7 million visitors come to the city - an increase of a third - generating £754 million for the local economy after being bestowed the honour.
Of the visitors surveyed 99% said they liked the general atmosphere and 97% felt welcome, he wrote.
“Crucially, the research from academics at Liverpool University found that 85% of the city’s residents agreed that Liverpool was a better place to live in than before,” he wrote.
A media analysis of Liverpool’s Capital of Culture year, Anderson wrote, found coverage of Liverpool’s cultural attractions doubled and, f”or the first time in decades, positive stories about our city outweighed negative ones”.
Anderson continued: “More than anything else, Capital of Culture allowed us to shake off the crude stereotype of being a city that had seen its best days. It meant we could rebrand ourselves as a place with massive cultural impact and put a spring in our step.
“Our year was a genuine people’s celebration.”