Thousands have been left disappointed after the five UK cities in the running to host the 2023 European Capital of Culture have been scratched from the list because of Brexit.

Despite the fact that the scheme is open to countries outside the EU, a letter to the British government from Martine Reicherts, EU director-general for Education and Culture, announced the decision to exclude the UK.

“After consulting relevant services of the Commission, I would like to inform you that following its withdrawal from the European Union, the participation of the United Kingdom in the European Capital of Culture Union action will not be possible,” the letter said.

The programme has been running since 1985, allowing countries across Europe to take turns in hosting the title. This year, Leeds, Dundee, Nottingham, Milton Keynes and Belfast/Derry were all in the running to take the award.

The five cities had already worked hard to fund their bids, with Leeds reportedly spending £1m over the past four years. MP for Leeds Central Hilary Benn described the news as “a terrible blow”.

He added: “It’s particularly extraordinary especially as the bids have just gone in. And to wait until all the work had gone in and turn around and say, ‘You can’t do this’ – it’s shoddy treatment of Leeds and the other cities have worked so hard.”

Bitter end

Liverpool was the last UK city to win the European Capital of Culture title in 2008. The award is seen an opportunity for urban regeneration, particularly regarding the cultural, social and economic status, and Liverpool saw massive gains from winning the accolade.

One research programme, Impact 08, found that the city had seen as many as 9.7 million visitors during its festival year, bringing in £753.8m for the economy.

Since its transformation in the lead-up to the award, Liverpool has seen huge growth and is often now noted as a “property hotspot” in the UK, as the regeneration led to a surge of people wanting to live in the city.

Just a few of the developments that have changed the face of the city include the Liverpool One shopping centre, the regeneration of the Albert Docks and Lime Street, and the Liverpool Waters and Anfield projects, all of which have created a huge boost to the local area.

After the benefits seen in Liverpool since being awarded the Capital of Culture, the news of the UK’s entries being excluded has been a bitter blow to the 2023 contenders.