Boris Johnson has pledged to extend the right of Hong Kong citizens to live and work in the UK after accusing China of a “clear and serious breach” of a treaty with Britain.
The Prime Minister confirmed Britain would open a pathway to citizenship for around Hong Kong British National (Overseas) passport holders following the introduction of China’s new security law. The move could affect nearly three million people.
His statement came after Hong Kong police made their first arrests under the law, including one person said to have displayed a sign with the Union Jack and calling for Hong Kong’s independence.
Taking effect on Tuesday night, the law makes activities deemed subversive or secessionist punishable by imprisonment. It is seen as targeting anti-government demonstrations that have roiled the territory for months.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said the law “constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British joint declaration”.
Responding to Tory MP for Bracknell James Sunderland, who asked what message the PM might have for the people of Hong Kong, Mr Johnson said: “We stand for rules and obligations and we think that is the soundest basis for our international relations and the enactment and imposition of this national security law constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British joint declaration.
“It violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and is in direct conflict with Hong Kong basic law. The law also threatens the freedoms and rights protected by the Joint Declaration.
“We made clear that if China continued down this path we would introduce a new route for those with British national overseas 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 revealed further details concerning the Government’s plan shortly afterwards, confirming to Parliament that officials would create a “bespoke” scheme for BNO passport holders to obtain UK citizenship.
Mr Raab told Parliament that BNO passport holders will be granted limited leave to remain for five years, during which they can work or study. After that, they will be able to apply for “settled status”, he added, then after a further 12 months with this status, they will be able to apply for citizenship.
There will be “no quotas or numbers” imposed as part of the scheme, Mr Raab said.
The Foreign Secretary had earlier on Wednesday accused China of a “clear and serious violation” of a treaty forged with the UK by imposing the new national security law on Hong Kong.
Mr Raab said Beijing had breached the Joint Declaration signed between the UK and China in 1985 to protect freedoms in the territory by enacting the controversial legislation.
The legally-binding Sino-British Joint Declaration set out a level of autonomy for Hong Kong for at least 50 years.
Ahead of the PM’s commitment, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy called on the Government to “lay out the concrete steps” to fulfil its commitments to the people of Hong Kong.
“Now is not the moment to look away,” she said.