The BBC’s political editor used the Hong Kong situation to highlight that the UK’s departure from the EU would allow it further control over its borders. Her comments follow Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement yesterday that as many as three million Hong King residents would be offered the chance to settle in the UK after Beijing passed a controversial national security law on the region.
Many fear that the law will erode the unique freedoms that Hong Kong and its residents have compared to the rest of China.
On June 3, Johnson claimed that if the law were passed, then “Britain would then have no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong”.
Now, this latest move sees that claim materialised in the form of an offer for a five-year stay in Britain to Hong Kong residents that hold a British National Overseas Passport.
It’s thought that 350,000 Hong Kong residents currently have such a passport, while around 2.6 million others are eligible for one.
Laura Kuenssberg noted the move to welcome HK residents came just after an Immigration Bill vote.
Referring to the change in immigration rules in a BBC article yesterday, Mrs Kuenssberg said: “The decision is a testament of the principle that the UK out of the EU can make its own decisions about who arrives and who leaves.”
However, it should be noted that even when it was in the European Union, the UK still had control over its immigration policy regarding any country outside of the EU.
Kuennsberg also said that the UK’s decision to set relaxed immigration rules for Hong Kong residents stems from its historical ties to the region.
Hong Kong was a British colony after China ceded the region in 1842. It remained so until 1997, when the sovereignty over Hong Kong was once again given to China.
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The Prime Minister said the UK will aim to make it easier for Hong Kong residents to apply for citizenship.
This transfer was subject to a joint declaration signed by both Britain and China, which ensured that Hong Kong would retain a level of autonomy from Beijing rule under a “one country, two systems” policy.
But Beijing’s decision to impose controversial national security laws on Hong Kong this week has given rise to fears that Hong Kong’s semi-independent status will be threatened.
This, as Johnson said on June 3, would be “in direct conflict with [China’s] obligations under the joint declaration, a legally binding treaty registered with the United Nations”.
The government’s changes to the immigration system yesterday will allow Hong Kong residents with the aforementioned British Overseas Passports to come to the UK for five years, and they’ll also be given the right to work or study.
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The UK left the European Union at the start of this year
Protests have risen up in Hong Kong in oppositon to the new law.
Currently, residents with such passports are only able to come to the UK for six months, so it’s a big change.
And it goes even further. After five years, Hong Kong residents that remain in the UK will be able to apply for settled status and, after one further year, they’ll be able to seek UK citizenship.
Johnson said yesterday: “We made clear that if China continued down this path we would introduce a new route for those with British National (Overseas) status to enter the UK, granting them limited leave to remain with the ability to live and work in the UK and thereafter to apply for citizenship. And that is precisely what we will do now.”
Police officers attempted to disperse crowds amid Hong Kong protests yesterday.
Downing Street has said that further details of the bespoke Hong Kong immigration scheme will be released “in due course”.
Kuenssberg added that, in a sharp contrast to the immigration laws relating to Hong Kong, MPs had just one day earlier backed an Immigration Bill that would end freedom of movement.
That bill is part of the government’s move to a points-based immigration system due next year.