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Mr Johnson said that Hong Kong’s freedoms were being violated and its 350,000 UK passport holders, as well as 2.6 million people with British National Overseas (BNO) status, will be offered an escape route out. Representing just under half of Hong Kong’s 7½ million population, they will be allowed to live in Britain for five years. After a further year they can apply for British citizenship. Britain had warned China to “step back from the brink” over the changes.
Under the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984, 13 years before Britain officially handed back the territory, Hong Kong has a level of autonomy for at least 50 years via the “one party, two systems” plan.
But China rammed its new law through parliament and kept the wording secret until Tuesday night, when it unveiled repressive measures against protesters.
Vandalism against government buildings or public transport can now be treated as subversion or terrorism with life sentences for rule-breakers.
And China’s feared security agencies will openly set up shop in Hong Kong for the first time.
Human rights groups say the law has “frightening loopholes” that could let Beijing round up protesters and extradite them to China.
Yesterday a man with a “Hong Kong Independence” flag was the first to be arrested – 23 years to the day since Britain returned the former colony to Chinese rule.
Pepper spray and water cannons were also used against protesters.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Johnson said: “The enactment of an imposition of this national security law constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British declaration.
“We made clear that if China continued down this path we would introduce a new route for those with BNO status to enter the UK, granting them limited leave to remain with the ability to live and work in the UK and thereafter to apply for citizenship, and that is precisely what we will do now.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs: “We will live up to our responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong, and I can tell the House that after further detailed discussions with the Home Secretary, I can now confirm we will proceed to honour our commitment to change the arrangements for those holding BNO status.”
Currently they are only entitled to visa-free access to the UK for six months.
Alp Mehmet, the chairman of MigrationWatch pressure group, warned that the plan was “a potential disaster for immigration control”.
ANALYSIS by Alan Mendoza
The Government’s offer to resettle as many as three million Hong Kongers who possess British Overseas Nationality is both magnanimous and necessary.
For 50 years after the transfer of power in 1997, China agreed to preserve Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and autonomy.
Now, 23 years into the agreement, China’s promises lie in tatters.
To turn our backs on them now in their hour of need would send the message the UK cannot be trusted and that any of us might be similarly abandoned if the circumstances suited.
This might be China’s way, but it has never been ours.
As Britain prepares to relaunch itself as a global power post-Brexit, what better way to show we are back in business than by welcoming our fellow nationals back into the British fold.
• Alan Mendoza is a founder and the Executive Director of the Henry Jackson Society.
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