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Boris Johnson says three million Hong Kongers can come to UK as he accuses Beijing of ‘clear and serious breach’ of China-UK agreement

fishing boats parade at the Victoria Harbour to celebrate the anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China.

4 min read

Boris Johnson has confirmed almost three million Hong Kong residents can now come to the UK amid a row over China’s decision to impose a controversial new security law.

The Prime Minister said the new legislation, which comes amid a crackdown on pro-democracy protests on the island, represented “a clear and serious breach” of the Sino-British joint declaration.

And he made clear the UK will press ahead with a shake-up to the visa system for those with British Nationals Overseas (BNO) status to make it easier for them to come here to live and work.

"The exact details of how the route will be implemented in due course but in the short term we will ensure that any BNO who wishes to come to the UK will be able to do so subject as always to the standard immigration checks," his official spokesman said.

"I don't think it's possible to be able to say how many will wish to come to the UK but obviously we can point to the numbers who will be eligible, and that's close to three million.

"If you are eligible as a BNO then you will be able to come here, it's not part of the salary threshold test that we will be applying elsewhere."

Speaking at PMQs, Mr Johnson said: “The enactment and imposition of this national security law constitutes a clear and serious breach of Sino-British joint declaration.

“It violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and in direct conflict with Hong Kong basic law. The law also threatens the freedom and rights protected by the joint declaration.

“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 the 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.”

The Government has previously promised to boost rights for BNO passport holders in Hong Kong after China passed sweeping anti-sedition laws aimed at cracking down on protests there.

The Foreign Office said a new immigration route would now allow people to come to the UK without the existing six-month limit, granting them five years limited leave to remain.

“After these five years, they will be able to apply for settled status and, after a further 12 months with that status, apply for citizenship,” the department said.

The row came as police in Hong Kong made their first arrests under a new law which clamps down on secession, subversion and terrorism in the former British colony.

The Sino-British joint declaration underpins the agreement that saw the UK hand Hong Kong back to China in 1997, and was intended to protect its “one country, two systems” government that has previously provided a high degree of autonomy from Beijing.

The new legislation has been condemned by western countries including the UK and the US, but Hong Kong’s pro-China leader Carrie Lam has argued it will “restore stability” after years of demonstrations there.

Updating MPs on the situation, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: "The legislation violates the high degree of autonomy, executive and legislative powers and independent judicial authority, provided for in paragraph three of the Joint Declaration.

"The imposition of this legislation by the government in Beijing, rather than it being left to Hong Kong's own institutions, is also, it should be noted, in direct conflict with article 23 of China's own basic goal for Hong Kong, which affirms that Hong Kong should bring forward its own national security legislation."

He added: "China has broken its promise to the people of Hong Kong under its own laws."

Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP who chairs Parliament’s all-party group on Hong Kong, said it was “right that the UK Government are taking swift action to help protect the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, but they must go further”.

But he warned: “The Government’s current proposal abandons many young Hong Kongers, some of whom have been at the fore of protests and are therefore most at risk. We cannot abandon them now, leaving them vulnerable to life imprisonment and potentially torture. They are counting on us.

"The Government must immediately give all Hong Kongers the right to live in the UK."

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