Willie Walsh, Boss Of British Airways Owner IAG, Attacks Osborne's 'Lack Of Vision'

The chancellor was warned not to start 'popping the champagne corks just yet' by Willie Walsh
The chancellor was warned not to start 'popping the champagne corks just yet' by Willie Walsh

George Osborne has been accused of lacking "visionary leadership" by one of the UK's leading airline chiefs, who warned that the country's "bureaucratic" visa system was hampering potential trade with China.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of the the International Airlines Group, parent company of British Airways, said: "I’m not a fan of Cameron nor of Osborne. I have no political affiliation but I haven’t seen much evidence of visionary leadership."

"To me, they respond to whatever's topical rather than setting out a long-term plan and a long-term vision for growth in the UK economy."

The chancellor said last week that the UK economy was "turning a corner" and looking "better". However, Walsh suggested that the economic recovery would be failing to be felt outside of London.

"If I was Osborne I certainly wouldn't be popping the champagne corks at this stage," he said.

Speaking at the inaugural flight of British Airways' direct service to Chengdu, the airline boss also warned that the UK's restrictive visa system was deterring Chinese businessmen and tourists.

"We need a visa regime that is less bureaucratic. People need to feel that the UK is actually welcoming. There is a perception in China that the UK doesn't want to see Chinese tourists or business. We need to put a bit of effort into changing that.

"The government talks a good talk about wanting to do business in China, but if they're going to translate that into real opportunity they're going to have to look more closely at the visa issue."

Walsh singled out air passenger duty, the UK's tax on air travel, and visa fees as a "real deterrent" to visitors.

The IAG boss said that the potential for trade between China and the UK was "significantly behind where it could be", although China was the UK's eighth biggest export market.

"It's still significantly behind where it could be, when you look at China in terms of its principal imports. There is an opportunity for a lot more trade," he said.

Walsh has previously criticised the coalition for their lack of "political will", accusing David Cameron last August of seeming "happier clapping and cheering for gold medals than dealing with tough, long-term economic challenges."

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