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Brexit ban on European ID cards ‘disastrous act of economic self-harm’, says tourism boss

Brexit and beyond

With visitor numbers to leading UK tourist attractions struggling since the pandemic, a tourism leader has put part of the blame on Britain’s ban on Europeans travelling on ID cards.

After Brexit, the UK banned EU citizens from making business or leisure trips with their national identity cards. More than 200 million potential visitors from Europe have ID cards but not passports.

Bernard Donoghue, director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva), described the decision as “illogical”.

He told The Independent: “We thought that was a disastrous act of economic self-harm.”

The UK’s top tourist attractions are still well below pre-Covid visitor numbers. Mr Donoghue – who is also the mayor of London’s ambassador for cultural tourism – said: “We’re down about 11 per cent compared to 2019.

“The biggest missing group are the Chinese. They came out of lockdown last. They’ve been prioritising travelling within China and within East Asia first, but are starting to come back to the UK.

“We’re hopeful that we should get back up to pre-Covid levels of Chinese visitors by the end of 2025.”

But he said the ID card ban is also causing harm to the UK inbound tourism industry.

“It had nothing to do with immigration,” the Alva director said.

“It just felt illogical. Our English-language schools here in the UK have been suffering. They’ve been missing out on both customers and money for the last three years.”

The main beneficiaries of the UK imposing extra red tape on prospective language students are Ireland, Malta and the United States.

“It really has affected the visitor economy here in the UK,” Mr Donoghue said.

The Institute of Tourist Guiding reported an almost total collapse of school group bookings after Brexit and Covid. Compared with 2019 they were 99 per cent down.

In 2022, Patricia Yates, chief executive of VisitBritain, told MPs: “You will find destinations like Hastings absolutely decimated by a lack of school visits.”

In December 2023 the Home Office U-turned in the case of parties of children from French schools. They are now allowed to visit the UK using ID cards once again, rather than every child having to have a passport.

The Independent has asked the Home Office for a response.

Talks are understood to have taken place between senior UK tourism…

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