Boris Johnson will open the U.K borders to nearly three million Hong Kong citizens if China presses on with its plans to impose a new security law that critics believe will thwart the territory of its freedom.
The Prime Minister pledged to make what he described as one of the “biggest changes” in the history of the British visa system by allowing 2.8m Hong Kongers the opportunity to become UK citizens.
The move marks a significant escalation in tensions between the UK and China at a time when relations between the West and the eastern superpower have crumbled.
Sources from The Times state that Mr Johnson said he was willing to put the people of Hong Kong “on the route to citizenship” unless China stepped back from its plans, which he warned would “dramatically erode” the region’s autonomy.
The stand-off comes after Beijing endorsed a new security law for Hong Kong earlier this week that Downing Street and other major Western nations believe breaches the terms of the treaty signed between the UK and China in 1997.
Should China go ahead with its changes for the territory, the PM said he would effectively upgrade the status of British National (Overseas) passports, which 350,000 people in Hong Kong hold and 2.5 million are eligible to apply for, to grant immigration rights beyond the current six month limit.
He said: “If China imposes its national security law, the British Government will change our immigration rules and allow any holder of these passports from Hong Kong to come to the UK for a renewable period of 12 months and be given further immigration rights, including the right to work, which could place them on a route to citizenship.
“This would amount to one of the biggest changes in our visa system in British history.”
“Many people in Hong Kong fear their way of life, which China pledged to uphold, is under threat.
“If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away; instead we will honour our obligations and provide an alternative.”
The move was backed by former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt on Wednesday who said he had supported the extension of visa rights back in 1997 when the UK handed the territory back to China.
It comes as political pressure grows across the Commonwealth, with chair of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, Tom Tugendhat, joining his counterparts in Australia, Canada and New Zealand in writing to their national leaders to express concerns over the planned security law.
The jointly signed letter by the committee chairs, which will also be sent to the Secretary General of the United Nations, states that Beijing’s imposition is a breach of the legally binding agreement between the UK and China.
The representatives asked for collaboration to establish a United Nations Special Envoy for Hong Kong.