Britain will change its immigration rules and offer millions of people in Hong Kong “a path to citizenship” if China imposes new security laws, said Boris Johnson.
In the Times, Johnson said the UK “has no choice” but to maintain ties to the land.
China faces growing criticism of its bill.
Many people in Hong Kong fear that this will end their unique freedoms, which the rest of China does not have.
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The UK is already in talks with allies, including the United States and Australia, on what to do if China imposes the new law – which would make it a crime to undermine Beijing’s authority – and people start to flee Hong Kong.
In Wednesday’s Times, the Prime Minister confirmed that if China passed the law, people with a British national passport (overseas) in Hong Kong would be allowed to come to the UK for 12 months without a visa. Currently, they are allowed to come for six months.
Currently, some 350,000 people in Hong Kong already have a BNO passport, but 2.6 million others are also eligible.
Passport holders would also be granted new immigration rights, including the right to work.
This “could put them on the path to citizenship,” said Johnson.
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“Britain will not go away”
The Prime Minister added that the immigration changes “would be one of the biggest changes to our visa system in British history”.
“If necessary, the British government will take this action and will do it willingly.
“Many people in Hong Kong fear that their way of life, which China promises to respect, will be threatened.
“If China proceeds to justify its fears, then Britain could not in all conscience shrug its shoulders and move away; instead, we will meet our obligations and offer an alternative. “
Hong Kong is a former British colony. It was returned to China under British control in 1997.
Under an agreement signed at the time, he enjoyed certain freedoms not seen in mainland China – and these are set out in a mini-constitution called the Basic Law.
BNO passports were granted to all Hong Kong citizens born before the transfer of power to China in 1997 and, although they give the holder some protection against the British foreign service, they currently do not give the right to live or to work in Britain.
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There have been many international critics of the Chinese bill, and the British government’s announcement marks a milestone in Britain’s opposition to the bill.
Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said on Tuesday that the United Kingdom was in talks with Five Eyes countries on how to deal with a possible “exodus” of people from the region.
He urged China to reconsider its plans, which he said would threaten Hong Kong’s autonomy and prosperity.
Senior British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand MPs have urged the United Nations to appoint a special envoy to Hong Kong to monitor the impact of the new human rights law.
Earlier this week, seven former UK foreign secretaries urged Johnson to form a global alliance to coordinate a response.