Leeds 2023: Bidders seek legal advice on European culture capital ban

Northern Ballet dancers perform at a Leeds 2023 event in March.
Northern Ballet dancers perform at a Leeds 2023 event in March.
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UK cities facing a Brexit ban on their bids to become European Capital of Culture have warned Brussels that they will not be going without a fight.

Leeds and the four other UK contenders for the 2023 title today issued a joint statement giving the latest details of their response to the ban, which was announced last week.

In it, they revealed they had asked the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to take advice on the “legal status of the announcement as a matter of urgency”.

The cities pointed out that a “calendar” agreed by the European Parliament and European Council in recent months had confirmed the UK as a culture capital host country for 2023.

In an abrupt U-turn, Brussels decision-makers said last Thursday that UK cities would not be able to hold the title after Brexit.

Signed by Leeds City Council leader Coun Judith Blake, today’s statement said: “We all recognise the urgent need to reach a conclusion in a timescale that allows us to harness the momentum in our cities.

“Therefore intensive and constructive discussions will continue over the coming weeks.”

The UK contenders – who also include Dundee and Nottingham – submitted their 2023 bids at the end of October, nearly a year-and-a-half after the EU referendum.

They held talks on Tuesday with representatives of the DCMS, including Arts Minister John Glen.

In today’s statement, the bidders said: “The meeting with DCMS was positive and we were encouraged by their commitment to try and resolve this issue with the European Commission and agree a clear way forward for the cities involved.”

Meanwhile, an internal Leeds council watchdog has confirmed that the 2023 situation will be on its agenda when it meets later this month.

Opposition councillors last week called for an investigation into Leeds’s bid, questioning whether “due diligence” was conducted regarding the possible impact of Brexit.

The council’s culture scrutiny board yesterday said it had asked the administration to provide an update on “issues and options” relating to the competition at a meeting on December 13.

Coun Alan Lamb, chair of the scrutiny board, said: “As ever, we will carry out this important cross party work in a calm and measured way.”

Coun Blake has previously said “all available guidance” was sought from the DCMS about UK eligibility following the EU referendum.

The final cost of Leeds’s bid – which has been in the pipeline since 2014 – is expected to be £1m, with about £200,000 coming from the council.

Coun Andrew Carter, leader of the opposition Conservative group on the Labour-run council, has called for Brussels to pay back the money spent by Leeds during the competition process.

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves has written to the European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker urging him to overturn the ban.

She has also written to Culture Secretary Karen Bradley asking her to do everything she can to support efforts to correct the “huge injustice”.