Terming China’s new security law for Hong Kong a ‘clear and serious breach’ of the agreement that preceded the 1997 handover, the Boris Johnson government on Wednesday hit back at Beijing and offered a new citizenship path to residents of the former British colony.
In strongly-worded statements, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and foreign secretary Dominic Raab told parliament that the law violates the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration under which Hong Kong’s autonomy was guaranteed under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle for a period of 50 years. It also violates China’s and Hong Kong laws, they claimed.
Raab said the UK will work with partners across the world to ensure that China lives up to its obligations to uphold the rule of international law. The European Union on Wednesday also termed the law as a violation of the pre-handover agreement.
Raab told the House of Commons that there will be no limit to the number of people who could use the new pathway and enter the UK, but official estimates put the figure of BNO holders and their dependants at nearly 3 million.
The bespoke immigration route will allow BNOs to come to the UK without the current six- month limit, granting them five years limited leave to remain, with the ability to live and work. After these five years, they will be able to apply for settled status and, after a further 12 months with that status, apply for citizenship.
Raab, said: “We will not look the other way on Hong Kong, and we will not duck our historic responsibilities to its people. We will honour our commitment to change the arrangements for those holding BNO status and continue to stand up for the people of Hong Kong.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel added: “China’s decision to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong is deeply regrettable. Now China have imposed this law we will launch a new immigration route for British Nationals Overseas and their families.
“The UK has a historic and moral obligation to British Nationals Overseas in Hong Kong and we will honour our commitment to them.”
The BNO status was created by Article 4(1) of the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986 which came into effect on 1 July 1987. As of February 2020, there are 349,881 holders of BNO passports; the government estimates there are around 2.9 million BNOs currently in Hong Kong.