Boris Johnson risked provoking a major row with Theresa May today after he accused the Home Office of turning a blind eye to long-term illegal immigrants in the UK.
The Mayor of London, who has called for an amnesty on over-stayers, said the Government had effectively adopted a similar policy by the back door.
In remarks certain to anger Tory colleagues, who regard immigration as a touchstone issue, he also accused the Home Secretary of taking a “blunderbuss” approach to cracking down on abuse of student visas.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly taken the flak for UK visa policy – particularly over new restrictions on student visas – during his week-long trade mission in India.
On the final day of his tour, he told Arnab Goswami of India’s most popular English TV current affairs show Times Now: “It’s been a blunderbuss approach that has hit and caused a lot of uncertainty and confusion in vital markets like India.
“If you look at what the Home Office is really doing – if you look at what is really happening to people who have been chronic, chronic over-stayers in the British system they are effectively now given an amnesty as it is. The difference is that I call it an amnesty and the Government doesn’t really admit it is happening.”
He added: “On this particular issue of the student visas I’m making a case that the Government doesn’t seem to agree with. I think I’m going to win the argument.”
Mr Johnson was also teased by Goswami about his political ambitions. The high-profile presenter, who is known as the Indian answer to US chat show host David Letterman, asked the Mayor: “When are you going to be running for a bigger job?
“It’s generally believed you’re very ambitious. I can’t believe that a 48-year-old up-and-coming politician, who has the momentum behind him, is going to let go of the chance to lead the Tory party, or even become Prime Minister.”
Mr Johnson batted away the question, insisting he would focus on delivering an Olympic legacy instead.
Asked whether he would retire from politics at the end of his second term in 2016, he replied: “Three-and-a-half years is a long time in politics. We’ll see what happens.”
The TV interview was the culmination of a tour of the subcontinent which has taken in Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai.