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Dominic Raab: UK will extend visa rights unless China 'steps back' from Hong Kong law

Dominic Raab has urged China to "step back" from its plans

3 min read

Dominic Raab has announced plans to extend citizenship rights for people in Hong Kong unless China "steps back" from a controversial new security bill.

The Foreign Secretary said he would boost rights for British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders in Hong Kong after China passed sweeping anti-sedition laws aimed at cracking down on protests in the city-state.

China's parliament passed the new security bill on Thurday after almost a year of protests in Hong Kong by pro-democracy activists, meaning it will now be passed to the country's senior leadership for approval.

The plans would ban "any acts or activities" which undermine China's national security, and could pave the way for Chinese security forces to operate in Hong Kong for the first time.

But the move was branded "deeply concerning" by the foreign ministers of the UK, USA, Canada and Australia who said in a joint statement the law would "curtail the Hong Kong people’s liberties, and in doing so, dramatically erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and the system that made it so prosperous".

And Mr Raab has now urged China to "live up to its international obligations" as he threatened to extend the UK's visa scheme for BNO passport holders, giving them a "pathway to future citizenship".

Around 300,000 people in Hong Kong are currently eligible for the scheme, which allows them to stay in the UK for up to six months without a visa.

But the Foreign Secretary said the UK would extend that to 12 months if China refused to "step back" from the plans.

"In relation to BNO passport holders, as you know currently they only have the right to come to the UK for six months," he said.

"If China continues down this path and implements this national security legislation, we will change that status.

"And we will remove that six-month limit and allow those BNO passport holders to come to the UK and to apply to work and study for extendable periods of 12 months and that will itself provide a pathway to future citizenship."

His comments come amid growing calls from Tory MPs for the UK to reconsider its relationship with China in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

Responding to the announcement, Conservative MP Bob Seely, tweeted: "It's a good start, but more is needed, such as (1) the right-to-work in the UK and (2) fast-track to UK citizenship. #DoTheRightThing

"We need a review of our entire relationship with China."

Meanwhile, Tom Tugendhat, the Tory chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, added: "This is a fantastic news and a great credit to Dominic Raab and [Home Secretary] Priti Patel.

"Some of us have been calling for it for a while! Now we need to go further and recognise the full rights of British nationals."

Meanwhile, Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary said the move was an "important first step" but urged ministers to "go further".

"This is an important first step in fulfilling our longstanding obligation to the people of Hong Kong and reflects the seriousness of the threat posed by China’s approval of new national security legislation earlier today."

She added: “The UK must now go further and ensure that the issue of Hong Kong is on the agenda when world leaders meet at next month’s G7 summit.

"The events in Hong Kong over recent days represent a concerted effort to erode the Joint Declaration and undermine protected freedoms in Hong Kong. It represents a challenge to our values. Now is not the moment for the UK to turn away from our international obligations.”

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