Jean-Claude Juncker has been urged to intervene to allow a British city to be named the European Capital of Culture despite Brexit.
British entrants for the 2023 honour have been deemed ineligible because the UK will not be part of the European Union or European Economic Area by then.
But in a letter to European Commission president Mr Juncker, MPs representing the five areas which have submitted bids for culture capital status urged him to allow the process to continue.
They told him: “We 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.
“Politics should not interfere with what is in many ways an event intended to bridge cultural and political divides.”
Five different UK bids were competing to host the 2023 European Capital of Culture, spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on their entries.
Nottingham, Leeds, Milton Keynes, Dundee and a joint Belfast-Londonderry-Strabane bid were all in the running for the accolade, which has the potential to provide a significant economic boost.
In the letter organised by Leeds West Labour MP Rachel Reeves, representatives from all five areas told Mr Juncker: “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 and continuing cooperation after Brexit.”
The MPs pointed out that cities in Norway, Iceland, Turkey and Serbia have held or will hold capital of culture status, although they acknowledged that all were either within the European Economic Area or candidate countries to join the EU, the grounds for eligibility set for the competition.
“We politely remind you that the United Kingdom is still a member of the European Union and that no decision has yet been made as to what a future relationship will look like,” the MPs told Mr Juncker.
The group have also written to Culture Secretary Karen Bradley to ask what can be done to resolve the situation.
The European Commission said the position was “one of the many concrete consequences” of Brexit and the result of the approach to Brexit set out by Theresa May which would see the UK leave the single market.
The commission said that EU law decided in 2014 by all member states, including the UK, ruled you have to be in the EU, the EEA or a candidate to join in order to take part in the competition.
“The UK’s letter declaring Article 50 in turn makes clear that UK will be a member of neither the EU nor the EEA from March 30 2019,” the commission said.
“This leads to the inescapable conclusion that the UK cannot host a Capital of Culture in 2023.”