Since the opening of the Italian consulate this summer, Manchester has 13 diplomatic missions of consulate-general status, second only in number to Edinburgh, which is of course the capital city of Scotland. Does this international recognition confirm the status of Manchester, which is already the seat of the Metropolitan mayor styled as the ‘King of the North’, as the capital of the North?
What is a consulate general?
A consulate general, or more commonly referred as a consulate, is both a diplomatic mission from one country to another and the title of the highest-ranking official in the mission, the consul general, who is a full accredited member of the diplomatic service of the country in question. It is subordinate to the major mission or embassy, which is normally located in the capital city (except where this is politically contentious, e.g., Jerusalem) and headed by an ambassador.
Consuls have a role in protecting the interests of their citizens resident temporarily or permanently in the host country. They may also issue passports and register the births of their citizens. To the general public, a consulate is where you go if you need a visa to enter the country in question, although in Manchester this is increasingly being outsourced to commercial organizations.
The role of the consulate and its staff is, however, much broader than simply issuing travel documents and looking after its citizens. The greatest activity has traditionally been focused on promoting trade; import and export of both goods and services between the two countries.
In recent years, recognising the importance of soft power and the important contribution of intangibles such as education and culture to trade, diplomatic missions have also looked to initiate and strengthen cultural ties between the nations. This may be initiated by the diplomatic staff working with local community leaders or through national cultural organizations, e.g., the Instituto Cervantes, Goethe-Institut and the Alliance Francaise for Spain, Germany and France respectively, or the Confucius Institute for China.
Through these important roles, the location of diplomatic missions such as consulates is seen as an important international mark of esteem for the cities where they are located.
Why have a consulate in Manchester?
The activities of a diplomatic mission are many and varied, with the ambassador being the official representative of one government to another. This post can be highly political, e.g., the USA regularly changes the ambassadors in post to major nations when there is a change in its president. There is normally a parallel structure, which carries out the consular activities, and there may even be separate buildings for the embassy and a consulate within a capital city.
It thus makes sense to distribute the consular activity around a country to reduce travel times and allow efficient communication, this is especially so in a large country like the USA where the UK has consulates in eight of the major cities including New York, Chicago and San Francisco. This is also the case in smaller nations where we have strong trade links, e.g., in Germany where there are consulates in Dusseldorf and Munich subordinate to the embassy in Berlin.
Twenty-two counties have chosen to open consulates outside London in a number of cities in the UK and their distribution is shown below. The most popular location for a consulate is Edinburgh with 14 countries represented, Manchester is the second most favoured location with 13.
The number of consulates in Manchester is significantly greater than the consular presence in Cardiff and Belfast, which are the capital cities of the UK constituent nations of Wales and Northern Ireland. It has been reported that Türkiye is in the process of locating a consulate in Manchester, which would increase the number of consulates in the city to 14 – the same number as the capital of Scotland. It is clear from this data that Manchester is the preferred location for a consular presence in the North of England, indeed the only other consulate in the North is the Pakistani mission in Bradford, which duplicates a similar level consulate in Manchester.
In Manchester most consulates from the European Union member states are located in a ‘diplomatic quarter’ close to Portland St and Piccadilly Gardens, but others are in Salford Quays and Rusholme.
One of the reasons for the increase in consular presence from European nations has been the impact of Brexit, which has removed or diminished the rights of EU nationals resident in Manchester and the North of England and has increased friction in the trade between the UK and the EU nations. However, there has also been a recognition that devolution to city regions, notably Manchester, Liverpool and West Yorkshire, has added a local political dimension that warrants an increased diplomatic presence.
The history of consular representation in Manchester
There have been diplomatic missions in Manchester for about 200 years with consular presence from the USA and the short-lived Republic of Gran Colombia in the 1820s. By 1845 there were also consuls from France, Spain, Belgium and the Ottoman Empire. As Manchester grew in importance through industrialization and international trade the number of consuls in the city increased to over 20.
In the late 19th century, the various consuls in the city formed the Manchester Consular Association to allow them to collectively improve trade and cultural/political links with Manchester and the North of England. This association remains in place today and continues to foster links locally. The consular association has another link with the City of Manchester in that it commissioned the Badge of Office of the Lord Mayor of Manchester and presented it to the city council in 1925 to replace the badly worn original. This badge can be seen on official portraits of the current Lord Mayor.
Clearly Manchester has maintained its position as a major international city recognised by the retained presence of consular missions from our local neighbours in the European Union to major international powers such as China. Although Mancunians would use this evidence to proclaim Manchester as the de facto capital of the North, it is probably also its central position midway along the M62 Northern Powerhouse Corridor and the convenient location close to Manchester International Airport and the hoped-for terminus of HS2 that makes it the most favoured location for diplomats in the North.
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