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Millions of residents of Hong Kong are now eligible for UK citizenship

Britain's foreign secretary Dominic Raab
REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Britain’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab makes a statement on Hong Kong’s national security legislation
By Annabelle Timsit
LondonPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

China has imposed a sweeping new security law on Hong Kong that criminalizes secession, subversion of state power, terrorism, and foreign collusion—broad categories that, as Quartz’s Mary Hui writes, are “so vague and subjective as to be almost infinitely applicable.”

Many Hong Kong residents could now move to the UK instead. Britain has been especially vocal about Beijing’s effort to assert its authority over Hong Kong, which was once a British colony. Today, it made its position clearer: Prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed that the UK will give people in Hong Kong who hold a specific kind of passport a pathway to British citizenship.

Hong Kong residents born before the British handover in 1997 are eligible for British National Overseas (BNO) passports, and about 350,000 people currently have one, but the pledge will extend to any Hong Kong resident eligible for a BNO passport, of which there are about 3 million.

“The enactment and imposition of this security law constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” Johnson said in Parliament, referring to the 1984 agreement between the UK and China on the future of Hong Kong. “It violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and is in direct conflict with Hong Kong’s Basic Law.  The law also threatens the freedoms and rights protected by the joint declaration.”

Speaking in further detail before the House of Commons, foreign secretary Dominic Raab (video) said the UK would offer a “bespoke” route to citizenship for BNO passport holders, who will be allowed to live and work in the UK for five years, then apply for settled status, and one year later, citizenship.

“It is a sad day for the people of Hong Kong and one which can only undermine international trust in the Chinese government’s willingness to keep its word and live up to its promises,” Raab said. “The UK will keep its word. We will live up to our responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong.”

The government’s announcement was generally welcomed by lawmakers who work on China, many of whom have coalesced around three parliamentary groups—the Interparliamentary Alliance on China, the China Research Group, and the All Party Parliamentary China Group (APPCG)—dedicated to the issue. Richard Graham, chair of the APPCG and Conservative member of parliament for Gloucester, told Quartz, “the two signatories of the 1984 [joint declaration] had 20 years of close co-operation over the agreed ‘One Country Two Systems’ approach. That consensus is now breaking down, with ‘two systems’ the loser.”

But the move comes at a sensitive time for the UK’s relationship with China (Quartz member exclusive). Johnson faces a decision in the coming weeks over whether—or to what extent—to allow Chinese tech giant Huawei into the UK’s 5G infrastructure, as British intelligence agencies conduct a review of the company. Britain will likely wait with bated breath for China’s response.

This story was updated with a quote from Richard Graham.

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