‘Post-Brexit rules putting Europeans off the UK,’ warns Mayor of London

London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Photograph: City Hall

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called on the governmment to ease post-Brexit visa rules, which he warns are putting off too many young Europeans from visiting, and working in, the UK capital.

In a speech to business leaders last month, Khan urged ministers to introduce a new ‘youth group travel visa’ – designed to make the UK more open to visits from international school pupils.

One recent survey by the Tourism Alliance – the industry body for UK tourism – found that a group of EU-based tour operators expected in 2023 to send just 42 per cent of the number of students to the UK compared with how many they sent in 2019. This compares with 95 per cent for the Republic of Ireland, and 90 per cent for other EU countries.

Khan said he was concerned about the impact of “restrictive policies that only damage our economy and opportunities for growth”.

Before Brexit, groups of EU school-children could travel using their state-issued European Economic Area (EEA) identity cards – but since October 2021, every child entering the UK must have a passport, and children with non-EU passports, including refugees, also need a £95 visa.

Passport ownership is less common in many European countries than in the UK, as many people travel within the EU using their national ID card – with less than half the population of France and Germany holding a passport.

The new rules are thought to be making many EU school trips to London prohibitively difficult and expensive to organise.

In his speech at the opening of architecture firm Patriarche’s new offices in the City, the Mayor also called for the government’s youth mobility scheme to be extended, in a reciprocal agreement with EU countries.

The scheme allows 18-30 year-olds from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and a few other countries to live and work in the UK for up to two years, provided they have £2,530 in savings.

The government’s independent Migration Advisory Committee has long called for the scheme’s expansion. Khan believes that doing so would promote cultural exchange and support sectors experiencing labour shortages, such as hospitality and catering.

“Our post-Brexit future does not have to mean isolation from our European friends and partners and restrictive policies that only damage our economy and opportunities for growth,” said the Mayor.

Richard Toomer, executive director of the Tourism Alliance, said: “London and the rest of the country have so much to offer visitors young and old. We should be encouraging tourists to come here, not putting up unnecessary barriers. No longer accepting ID cards at the border has had a massive hit on the numbers of young people coming to visit the UK, especially on organised school trips.

“Last year there was an 83 per cent reduction in the number of students that operators in Europe sent to the UK.”

He added: “Youth mobility is a great reciprocal scheme where young people get to travel and experience different cultures and so often bring back an enthusiasm for the county to their home nation which lasts a lifetime.”

In January, the Mayor called for a “debate” on whether the UK should re-join the European single market, but Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said that there is “no case for going back to the EU or going back into the single market”.

Asked whether the government would be heeding Khan’s calls, a Home Office spokeswoman said: “We recognise the importance of cultural and educational exchanges between the UK and other nations, and the UK’s visit rules are among the most generous in the world.

“The standard visitor rules currently permit a range of short-term activities for which entry clearance is not required in advance, but most EEA and Swiss citizens require a passport, just like everybody else.”

Home Office sources pointed out that at the France-UK summit in Paris in March, held between Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron, the UK committed to ease the travel of school groups to the UK by making changes to documentary requirements for schoolchildren on organised trips from France.

The government is understood to be considering the details and implications of implementing this commitment.