Manchester Christmas Markets: a stalwart of the city’s festive celebrations. But what fate now for the popular markets and those like them around the UK, in the wake of Brexit? Shara Pledger takes a closer look.
Christmas in the time of Covid is proving a trying experience for many. Latitude Law is based in central Manchester, and the city has been under the most stringent Coronavirus restrictions almost continually since the summer. One notable casualty of the events of 2020 has been Christmas markets. Popular in many cities across the UK, Manchester’s markets usually attract thousands of visitors each year, with hundreds of vendors taking part. This year, the markets are all but cancelled.
Traditionally, many Christmas market vendors travel from mainland Europe to sell authentic gifts and foods to festive UK shoppers. The markets usually last several weeks, and naturally involve direct selling by non-British nationals to the UK public. While the UK remained subject to the laws of the European Union, this was nothing significant. But changes are afoot.
On 31 December 2020, the UK’s existing relationship with the EU will end – could this spell the end of Christmas markets for good?
It is of course not the case that from 1 January 2021 EU nationals don’t have permission to enter the UK again. Those already resident in the UK before the end of the Brexit transition period are permitted to remain, albeit with a new requirement to register their residence by the end of June 2021. In addition, EU nationals who have routinely worked in the UK in the past but live elsewhere may continue with their normal business activities, providing they acquire a 5-year Frontier Worker permit to confirm their status.
For those who do not fit into either of these categories, the UK does not intend to impose a requirement for EU nationals to apply for a physical visa before visiting the UK; most new arrivals will be assessed at the border and then admitted for a maximum 6 months as visitors.
Will the Manchester Christmas Markets be back in 2021?
Will the above flexibility for visitors assist Christmas market traders in 2021, when many hope the UK will see a return to shopping and socialising? Well, not automatically. Visitors to the UK are subject to restrictions on their activities, including absolute prohibitions on direct selling to the public, providing goods and services, and receipt of payment from a UK source. This is – on the face of it – an immediate problem; how can a Christmas Market include EU stalls if the vendors have no permission to sell anything in the UK?
There are options for individuals to consider. The visitor rules contain specific exemptions to the prohibition on payment, currently aimed at creative and cultural visitors to the UK (eg a band entering the UK to perform at a festival). The permit-free festival route allows creative visitors to travel to the UK for up to one month to participate in a pre-approved festival, with no restriction on remuneration for their appearance. The permitted paid engagement option works as a type of informal sponsorship for visitors, where a creative artist can be invited to the UK by an established arts organisation, again with remuneration allowed. It’s easy to see how a similar approach could be adopted for specific festivals such as Christmas markets, which would need to be approved as such by the Home Office.
More formal sponsorship is a less attractive alternative. This approach doesn’t fit with the self-employed nature of many market vendors, and it would give the UK sponsor – such as a city council – a significant level of responsibility for the individuals involved, which is unlikely to be desirable.
A further option would be a seasonal approach, such as that adopted for agricultural workers. Time-limited specific categories have been utilised before – see specific exemptions for temporary employment as sheep shearers – and continue to be an option under current Immigration Rules (Temporary Worker – Seasonal Worker visa (T5)). Tweaks would be needed, seasonal schemes have so far been focused on the idea that a UK employer (eg a farm) requires a high volume of labour on a temporary basis, whereas Christmas markets are a collection of independent traders or brand representatives. So, the good news is…
While there are issues to address, the Christmas markets don’t have to be cancelled again in 2021.
Changes to the visitor rules – or new category specifically for vendors – would allow British shoppers to continue to get their fill of bratwurst and gluhwein. However, intervention is going to be needed, and you can never guarantee what the Home Office will and will not decide is appropriate. Here’s hoping that in the season of goodwill they decide to be generous.
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