Home secretary Theresa May has been accused by International Airlines Group boss Willie Walsh of making an “unjustified attack” on London business leaders in a row over Chinese visas.
Walsh hit out after May claimed that campaigners were using “spurious” figures to support their call for high-spending Chinese tourists to be allowed entry to the UK.
May also insisted in a website article promoted via Twitter that her critics were promoting “skewed perceptions” of the Home Office’s Chinese visa system and were “guilty” of spreading a “harmful message” which was damaging the country.
But Walsh, who has led the campaign for an increase in Chinese visitors, called her comments “an unjustified attack on British business people trying to do their best for Britain”.
He told the London Evening Standard: “The Home secretary accuses campaigners who want to boost trade with China of using ‘spurious figures’ to describe the UK’s Chinese visa system. The figures are from her own government.
“Instead of complaining about campaigners who want to improve links with China, she needs to put in place a speedy visa regime that really encourages visitors, growth and jobs.”
The British embassy in Beijing had reported that 193,000 visas were issued to Chinese visitors last year, Walsh said.
This compared with EU figures showing that more than one million Schengen visas, which allow users to travel throughout all European Union countries except Britain, were issued in 2011.
Walsh said that visas still took too long to process, were more expensive than the Schengen visa, and required the submission of fingerprints with each application.
He added: “While the government is taking some small steps to resolve this problem, it is not enough.”
May announced improvements to speed up Chinese visas last year and described the Chinese visa system as “a service to be proud of” and that there was now “sustained growth” in visitor numbers from China.
She said the visa application form “takes just 10 minutes to complete” and that latest figures show more than 205,000 Chinese visitors had been given the right to come to Britain.
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