May’s whispering campaign against Chinese visa changes

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt's attempt to open up more Chinese visas and boost tourism has been blocked by Theresa May on national security grounds, it has emerged.

Letters from the home secretary to the prime minister have made clear her opposition to Hunt's bid to triple the number of Chinese tourists visiting Britain by 2015.

Their tendency to spend three times as much money on a trip to the UK than other tourists has made them an obvious target from Hunt, who wants to make it easier and cheaper for Chinese nationals to get visas to visit Britain.

"The proposal… is not acceptable to the home secretary for national security reasons. At Cabinet the issue of asylum claims was discussed," letters sent from May to No 10 seen by the Telegraph newspaper state.

"We also face significant challenges with foreign national offenders and organised crime including drugs, money laundering, fraud, criminal finances, intellectual property, immigration and cyber crime."

Hunt claimed that Britain could generate an extra £500 million in extra visitor spending and create an extra 14,000 new jobs by pushing ahead with his new post-Olympics tourism strategy.

"We must use this extraordinary year to turbo-charge our tourism industry, to create jobs and prosperity on the back of a globally-enhanced reputation," he pressed.

Only 147,000 Chinese tourists visit Britain each year, compared to 1.2 million annual visits to France. Those wishing to visit Britain have to provide a large sum of money to guarantee they will return to China, apply for a visa up to six months before travelling and pay up to £600 for access.

May suggested that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport should improve its own performance before looking to interfere with the visa system.

She insisted the cost of the visa is not a barrier and said the visa process was "insignificant compared to the price and availability of hotels".