Boris Johnson has pledged to permit almost three million Hong Kong residents the suitable to reside and work indefinitely within the UK, with a path to full citizenship, if China imposes a controversial new nationwide safety regulation on the town.
The prime minister described the potential transfer as “one of many largest adjustments in our visa system in historical past”.
It’s a important escalation within the UK’s objections to Beijing’s plans.
Beforehand, Overseas Secretary Dominic Raab had solely mentioned the supply can be obtainable to the 350,000 present holders of a British Nationwide Abroad passport in Hong Kong and their dependants.
Nonetheless, Mr Johnson has mentioned he would prolong the identical supply to an additional 2.5 million folks in Hong Kong who don’t maintain a BNO passport however are eligible for one.
Final month, China introduced plans to instantly impose a brand new nationwide safety regulation in Hong Kong.
The element of the laws is presently being drafted however, below the present proposals, many concern the regulation could possibly be used to decrease Hong Kong’s conventional freedoms of the press, of speech and of protest, amongst others.
The regulation additionally would permit mainland Chinese language safety providers to function in Hong Kong.
Protesters have taken to the streets in Hong Kong to display, regardless of coronavirus social distancing restrictions nonetheless being in place.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong chief Carrie Lam mentioned the central authorities wouldn’t again down on the proposed laws.
She spoke throughout a visit to Beijing to debate the brand new regulation.
Writing within the South China Morning Put up and The Occasions, Mr Johnson mentioned the regulation on Hong Kong would “curtail its freedoms and dramatically erode its autonomy”.
“Britain would then haven’t any selection however to uphold our profound ties of historical past and friendship with Hong Kong.”
China has beforehand mentioned it reserved the suitable to take “countermeasures” in opposition to the UK.
Overseas ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian final month mentioned: “All such BNO passport holders are Chinese language nationals and if the UK insists on altering this apply it is not going to solely violate its personal stance but in addition worldwide regulation.”
On Wednesday, China’s overseas ministry mentioned it had lodged stern representations with the UK over Mr Raab’s feedback, who on Tuesday instructed Beijing to “step again from the brink” over Hong Kong.
The overseas ministry added the UK has no jurisdiction or supervision over Hong Kong and that any menace to the town’s stability and prosperity was from overseas forces.
A BNO passport is a journey doc that doesn’t confer citizenship rights however permits holders to journey to the UK for as much as six months, with out the automated proper to reside or work there.
They have been issued to folks in Hong Kong earlier than the territory’s handover from the UK to China in 1997. Anybody born earlier than 1997 in Hong Kong is eligible for one.
Beneath Mr Johnson’s plan BNO passport holders can be allowed to remain and work within the UK for 12 months, which could possibly be renewed annually – opening up a path to citizenship.
The intervention is more likely to worsen relations between the UK and China, that are deteriorating on a lot of fronts, together with the COVID-19 pandemic and the position of Chinese language tech firm Huawei in Britain’s 5G community.
Whitehall sources have instructed Sky Information the UK is about to rethink its coverage on China as views inside authorities harden.
Public opinion within the UK has additionally shifted with a latest YouGov ballot discovering that, given the present scenario in Hong Kong, 42% of British adults would help giving BNO passport holders from Hong Kong higher rights to return and reside in Britain, with 24% opposed.
Mr Johnson has urged China to rethink its method.
He added: “I nonetheless hope that China will do not forget that tasks go hand in glove with energy and management.
“As China performs a higher position on the worldwide stage – commensurate with its financial prowess – then its authority will relaxation not merely on its world weight however on its popularity for truthful dealing and magnanimity.
“Britain doesn’t search to stop China’s rise; quite the opposite we are going to work side-by-side on all the problems the place our pursuits converge, from commerce to local weather change. We would like a contemporary and mature relationship, primarily based on mutual respect and recognising China’s place on the planet.”