UK & the European Capital of Culture


The devastating effects of Brexit are increasingly being felt across all sectors. Leading figures for the Creative and Cultural Industries have been sounding warning bells from some time so it comes as no surprise that the UK will no longer be able to participate in the European Capital of Culture (ECOC) programme when we leave the EU.

In line with the government’s decision to enact Brexit, the UK will no longer be a member of the EU from the end of March 2019. The Conservative Government is not pursuing membership of the EEA/EFTA nor do we have a policy of accession to the EU. As a third-country the UK will therefore not be entitled to participate in the ECOC programme.

Amidst chaotic negotiations, the Conservative Government has chased a hard-Brexit at any cost, threatening a complete break away from the institutions and programmes that have played a significant role in supporting our growing cultural economy for the past 50 years.

Liverpool and Glasgow have been British recipients of the coveted ECOC title and Liverpool generated a return of £750m to the local economy from £170m of spending. But more importantly, the ECOC years fostered a real sense of civic pride and has left a meaningful legacy behind for the people living in the city and surrounding areas. 

It is a great shame that the Tory-led Brexit has now ruined the chances of UK cities from accessing the opportunity to regenerate through culture and particularly the ECOC programme, especially as some had spent up to £500,000 to complete their bids.

Along with the failed Tory Autumn budget, which delivered nothing of substance for the creative and cultural industries, the EU’s decision not to include the UK in the ECOC programme is a huge blow for our pro-European cities and the arts community.

I hope that some of the ideas, dreams and plans that have been worked on by the bidding cities can find fruition in other ways. For example, when Newcastle-Gateshead was passed over for Liverpool in 2008 the local authorities did not give up but pledged to continue working together to drive forward their ambitious agenda. The result was an enriched more entrepreneurial cultural sector better able to advocate for the arts on a day to day basis. We should also remember that we now have a regular UK City of Culture programme with Hull being the latest excellent manifestation.

As Brexit negotiations continue I and my team will work with the UK ECOC bid cities to help build bridges for dialogue with our European partners along with a commitment to fight for Freedom of Movement which will be hugely important for the cultural and creative industries beyond Brexit.


You can see the European Commissions original response here -