Cameron overrules home secretary on UK visa issue

05 Dec 2012 | Posted by Carl Thomas

Prime minister David Cameron has overruled the home secretary Theresa May on the issue of UK visa access for Chinese visitors.

The home secretary has lost an internal Cabinet battle over the reform and relaxation of visa rules for the Chinese. It appears that Mr Cameron's desire to help the country tap into the "growth market" of tourists from China is greater than the Home Office's concerns regarding national security.

An official spokesperson for the prime minister stated that Mr Cameron sees the need to make it easier for potential visitors from China to come to the UK. Failing to do so could risk losing tourism and trade opportunities in the future.

He said: "Increasingly, Chinese people are coming to the UK for business reasons and tourism. If you look at what other countries are doing, they are trying to make it easier for Chinese people to come into the country for those purposes and we are looking to do the same."

The Home Office, however, is less keen on the idea, noting that relaxing UK visa checks on Chinese tourists risks leading to an increase in organised crime rates. Ms May warned Downing Street against the policy earlier this year. A leaked letter from the home secretary claimed that there are already 400 Chinese criminals awaiting deportation and around 1,000 asylum applications placed within the last year.

"The proposal … is not acceptable to the home secretary for national security reasons. At Cabinet the issue of asylum claims was discussed," the letter argued. "We also face significant challenges with the Foreign National Offenders and organised crime including drugs, money laundering, fraud, criminals finances, intellectual property, immigration and cyber crime."

But the chancellor George Osbourne and business secretary Vince Cable are both believed to have supported the efforts to simplify visa access for the Chinese and the prime minister has pressed ahead to put the policy in place.