Boris Johnson has said he has “no other choice” than to offer citizens of Hong Kong citizenship if China encroaches on human rights in the former British colony.
The prime minister said last night that a proposed new national security law in Hong Kong would “dramatically undermine his autonomy” and violate the terms of his treaty with the UK.
Mr. Johnson said he would “willingly” introduce one of the “biggest changes to our visa system in British history” as an “alternative” to Chinese oppression.
Beijing’s pressure to impose its will on the former British colony has raised concerns about its future.
It has prompted Britain to provide nearly three million Hong Kong residents with a refuge qualifying for a British national overseas passport.
Boris Johnson said he would “willingly” introduce one of the “biggest changes to our visa system in British history” as an “alternative” to Chinese repression
A pro-democracy protester waves a British colonial flag on Monday at a shopping mall in the Central district in Hong Kong
Johnson wrote in the Times, “Britain would have no choice but to maintain our deep ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong.
“Today, approximately 350,000 of the area’s residents hold UK national (overseas) passports and another 2.5 million would be eligible to apply for them.” Currently, the passports offer visa-free access to the UK for up to six months.
He added: ‘If China imposes its national security law, the UK government will change our immigration rules and allow any holder of these Hong Kong passports to come to the UK for a renewable period of 12 months and get further immigration rights , including the right to work, which could put them on a route to citizenship.
“This would amount to one of the biggest changes to our visa system in history.
“If it proves necessary, the British government will take this step and take it voluntarily.
Many people in Hong Kong fear that their way of life, which China promises to maintain, is threatened.
“If China continues to justify their fears, Britain could not shrug our shoulders and walk away with a good conscience; instead, we will fulfill our obligations and provide an alternative. It is understood that the people of Hong Kong will not be offered a route to Britain until full details of the proposed laws expected to be released this month are published.
A demonstrator holds up UK national (overseas) passports in a shopping center during a protest against Chinese national security laws for Hong Kong
The BNO passport was created for people from Hong Kong before Britain returned the territory to Chinese rule in 1997.
Although they are British passports that allow a holder to visit Britain for six months, they do not automatically have the right to live and work there.
But the Secretary of State has said the six-month limit could be lifted if China, as expected, imposes draconian legislation on its city.
The promise has seen people with BNO passports rush to replace them.
The mother of two Ming Wong, 39, was one of those who re-applied for her lost passport.
“I started filling out the applications in December after the protests, but it is now national security law that really prompted me to complete the process,” Wong said.
Her husband, brother and parents are also applying for a job, she said.
According to figures obtained by the British Passport Office newspaper Mingpao, applications for renewal of BNO increased in the second half of last year amid sometimes violent protests against the government, reaching a total of over 120,000 in 2019 compared to about 14,000 in 2017 and 2018.
Beijing’s pressure to impose its will on the former British colony has raised concerns about its future
Immigration consultants have reported a wave of questions about moving from Hong Kong since China’s announcement on May 21.
“Last week alone, the number of inquiries rose to about 100 a day,” said Swing Wong, a director of the immigration consultancy in Midland, from about 50 a day earlier this year.
“Most people who inquire about the UK think it would be a safety net for their children,” said Ivan Yam, director of immigration adviser Golden Emperor Properties.
Mr Raab told the House of Commons yesterday that there is still time for China to withdraw a bill that Beijing says is necessary to protect itself.
When adopted, it will enable China to introduce its own security measures, such as the secret police and arbitrary detention of critics, in Hong Kong, fulfilling the promise of ‘one country, two systems’ that will run until 2047 destroyed.
Raab said, “If China is willing to interfere on political and autonomous grounds, it is also likely to threaten economic prosperity and the long-term economic model that Hong Kong reflects and embodies.
“The sad reality is that if China continues to follow this path, it will strangle what has long been the jewel in the economic crown.
“There is still an opportunity for China to step back,” he said, adding, “We think this is unlikely to happen.”