One of the ironies of the Brexit debate has been Britain’s attitude to foreigners.

While the result of last year’s referendum made it clear that Britons want to limit the number of migrants coming into the country, they are more than happy to welcome them as Tourists. In return, oversees visitors are more than happy to come.

Whether it’s the scenery, the heritage, the Royal Family or a chance to dip into a culture that has been exported around the world, tourists can’t get enough of the UK.

Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics, just out show that in the year to March 2017 there were 2.9 million visits by overseas residents to the UK, up 11% on the previous twelve months.

In the process they spent £4.2 billion here.

Mutual Affection

While Britain may be disenchanted with the EU, British people have clearly not fallen out of love with travelling abroad. Elsewhere in the same set of statistics it’s revealed that the number of trips abroad by UK residents rose 5% to 4.6 million.

In the last twenty years overseas visits by UK residents have risen from 45 million a year to more than 70 million, while the number of overseas visitors to the UK has increased from 25 million to 37 million (according to the Office for National Statistics).

Many Brits have a love hate relationship with France. While we love their food, wine and fashion, older people will proudly recall the way we stood shoulder to shoulder with the French during World War Two.

However, although many are still slightly suspicious of them, that feeling clearly isn’t mutual.

In 2016 French residents made 4.1 million visits to the UK, more than any other country. Of the 10 countries who supplied the most visitors, the only non-EU countries were the USA (second with 3.5 million visits) and Australia (10th with 1 million).

Pleasure v Business

Much as the Government might wish these were all people jetting in to do deals with British companies, tourism is still the main driver behind the flow of visitors. In 2016 there were 13.9 million holiday visits to the UK, 37% of the total. The next most popular reason was visiting friends and relatives (11.6 million) with business visits third on 9.2 million.

It’ll be interesting to see if and how visitor flows change as we get closer to Brexit. Even if numbers do drop off, history suggests they will soon rise again, as happened after 2001 when Foot and Mouth and September 11th deterred visitors for a time, or the 2008 financial crisis which also saw a drop in numbers.