Five prominent speakers discussed the “many questions still to be answered” about the government’s bold British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) passport holder scheme, which may offer 3 million Hongkongers a road to UK citizenship, during a webinar hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hong Kong and the APPG on Migration on 21st July. The government announced the scheme in response to China’s imposition of a new far–reaching national security law on Hong Kong.
Baroness Bennett and Lord Teverson hosted the webinar and welcomed the following speakers:
– Johnny Patterson, Director of Hong Kong Watch
– Simon Cheng, former Hong Kong British Consulate worker granted asylum in UK
– Lord Popat, Conservative Peer and Party Whip, appointed as the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Rwanda and Uganda in January 2016
– Stephen Kinnock MP, Labour MP for Aberavon and the Shadow Minister for Asia and the Pacific
– Jill Rutter, Director of Strategy and Relationships at British Future
Stephen Kinnock MP said:
“China has been on the front pages of our news for the past few months. The decision of the Chinese Communist Party to breach the Joint Declaration is of grave concern and in turn breaches international law and the rules-based system that we all benefit from. Nobody benefits from the increasingly aggressive and belligerent behaviour of the Chinese Communist Party. We have had a complacent policy towards China in the past. This has not worked. We’ve seen backward movement on human rights, real concerns around Taiwan, the expansion of the belt and road initiative which has led to a lot of conditionality placed on countries who have been critical of China. We need to have a profound reset on our relationship with China.
Action must be taken to give security to Hongkongers. There are a number of unanswered questions relating to the government’s BN(O) scheme. For example, what about 18 to 23 year olds? It is vital that those born after 1997 who don’t qualify are very often precisely the very people who have had the courage to protest on the streets and so we must ensure they are protected. We must also ensure this is not open only for people who are wealthy enough and have the resources to come over [to the UK]. The Labour Party is calling for moral clarity on this issue. This scheme must be open to all of those who need our protection, not just for the wealthy elite.“
Johnny Patterson said:
“The government’s expansion of BN(O) rights reflect the rapidly shifting geo-political context of the Hong Kong crisis. We welcome this change in policy, but many questions are still to be answered. We need to know when these measures will be put into place and how they will be laid out. Dominic Raab has suggested that the new BN(O) scheme may not be rolled out until January, leaving a critical 6–month interim period which parliamentarians should look at very carefully. We must also look to support younger Hongkongers not eligible for BN(O) status. The UK could look at developing some kind of young talent scheme, similar to Canada, or a student scheme to citizenship, similar to that available in Australia. We need to be aware that people’s needs will be diverse.”
Simon Cheng said:
“We need more clarification. Are there conditions attached to the BN(O) path to citizenship? We need to think about whether the scheme is doable and whether a Hongkonger’s right to work should be expanded to their dependents. Those left behind from the BN(O) scheme need to be able to come here to seek political asylum. I hope the government will continue to support Hongkongers. The UK should then support Hongkongers to integrate once they are here. We need to know what the follow up policy will be to support Hongkongers in the future.”
Lord Popat said:
“I would like to outline my own experience as a refugee from Uganda. Here I can see a repeat of my own history. Our status as a former British Colony was our lifeline. Hongkongers believe in democracy and the rule of law. We are short of good entrepreneurs in this country and we will benefit from Hongkongers greatly. The security and status of a British passport will be of great value to Hongkongers. I observe the children and great grandchildren of Ugandans are flourishing. Hongkongers have the same potential to thrive here in the UK.”
Jill Rutter said:
“Although about 370,000 people hold BN(O) passports, about 2.9 people are entitled to have them. That does not mean that everyone is going to move to the UK. Rather, this very welcome offer from the British government is about giving people security in order to limit pre–emptive migration. The government must answer the many unanswered questions about this bespoke offer to Hongkongers. Although under–18s may be able to come to the UK if their guardians have BN(O) status, what about those ages between 18-23 who are not eligible for BN(O) status? 64% of the British public approve of this offer and only 22% disapprove.”
Please find the full webinar recording below:
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