Boris Johnson has pledged to enable practically three million Hong Kong residents the proper to live and work indefinitely in the UK, with a route to full citizenship, if China imposes a controversial new nationwide safety law on the metropolis.
The prime minister described the potential transfer as “one of the biggest changes in our visa system in history”.
It is a major escalation in the UK’s objections to Beijing’s plans.
Previously international secretary Dominic Raab had solely mentioned the provide can be obtainable to the 350,000 present holders of a British National Overseas passport in Hong Kong and their dependants.
However, Mr Johnson has mentioned he would prolong the identical provide to an extra 2.5 million folks in Hong Kong who don’t maintain a BNO passport however are eligible for one.
Last month, China introduced plans to immediately impose a new nationwide safety law in Hong Kong.
The element of the laws is at present being drafted however, beneath the present proposals, many concern the law could be used to diminish Hong Kong’s conventional freedoms of the press, of speech and of protest, amongst others.
The law additionally would enable mainland Chinese safety providers to function in Hong Kong.
Protesters have taken to the streets in Hong Kong to reveal, regardless of coronavirus social distancing restrictions nonetheless being in place.
Writing in the South China Morning Post and The Times, Mr Johnson mentioned the law on Hong Kong would “curtail its freedoms and dramatically erode its autonomy”.
“Britain would then have no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with Hong Kong.”
China has beforehand mentioned it reserved the proper to take “countermeasures” towards the UK.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian final month mentioned: “All such BNO passport holders are Chinese nationals and if the UK insists on changing this practice it will not only violate its own stance but also international law.”
A BNO passport is a journey doc that doesn’t confer citizenship rights however permits holders to journey to the UK for up to six months, with out the automated proper to live 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. Anyone born earlier than 1997 in Hong Kong is eligible for one.
Under Mr Johnson’s plan BNO passport holders can be allowed to keep and work in the UK for 12 months, which could be renewed annually – opening up a path to citizenship.
The intervention is probably going to worsen relations between the UK and China, that are deteriorating on a variety of fronts, together with the COVID-19 pandemic and the function of Chinese tech firm Huawei in Britain’s 5G community.
Whitehall sources have advised Sky News the UK is about to rethink its coverage on China as views inside authorities harden.
Public opinion in the UK has additionally shifted with a current YouGov ballot discovering that, given the present state of affairs in Hong Kong, 42% of British adults would assist giving BNO passport holders from Hong Kong higher rights to come and live in Britain, with 24% opposed.
Mr Johnson has urged China to rethink its strategy.
He added: “I nonetheless hope that China will do not forget that duties go hand in glove with power and management.
“As China performs a higher function on the worldwide stage – commensurate with its financial prowess – then its authority will relaxation not merely on its world weight however on its repute for honest dealing and magnanimity.
“Britain does not seek to prevent China’s rise; on the contrary we will work side-by-side on all the issues where our interests converge, from trade to climate change. We want a modern and mature relationship, based on mutual respect and recognising China’s place in the world.”