Alistair Carmichael: Talk of 'Global Britain' is meaningless if we fail to stand up fro Hong Kong
Support is growing across Parliament for a more active response in the face of clear infringements by China on Hong Kong’s historic rights, writes Alistair Carmichael
The status of British Nationals Overseas (BNOs) in Hong Kong and their right to abode in the UK is an issue on which my party, the Liberal Democrats, have campaigned for decades. It speaks to our values of internationalism, support for the rule of law, and liberal democracy.
During the handover process in the 1980s and 1990s, my party demanded that the people of Hong Kong be given the right of abode in the UK if China were to renege on promises made in the Sino-British Declaration. Our leader Paddy Ashdown led this call, knowing the UK could not guarantee the promises we’d made without this supportive measure.
This is not, however, a party-political issue. At the formation of the first-ever All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong last month, Members from all sides of the political discourse came together to create a new parliamentary focus for scrutiny of China’s actions and hold our own Government to account.
China has repeatedly undermined the principles of the Joint Declaration in recent years, weakening Hong Kong’s democratic systems. Reports of police brutality against protestors have arrived almost daily since the start of protests against proposed extradition laws last summer. If there ever were a time to act in support of Hong Kong, it is now.
The legislation I am introducing this week, in partnership with MPs from all sides, is not a radical step but a necessary one. It seeks to discourage further infringements on Hong Kong’s historic freedoms, by reopening the BNO passport scheme and establishing the right to abode in the UK for BNO passport holders.
This, in combination with a mandate for the UK Government to strengthen the six-monthly reports so that they issue a judgement on whether the Joint Declaration has been breached, and if so issue Magnitsky-style sanctions, would give concrete weight to our commitments to Hong Kong.
I am realistic about the prospects of success for my Bill, which starts as a ten-minute rule motion this week. There are some who would say that it is better to keep our heads down and avoid making waves when it comes to an important trading partner.
This, however, is an issue that is not going to go away, as we have seen through the continued resistance shown by Hongkongers over these past months. They are not keeping their heads down, they are making waves, and that is why there is growing enthusiasm in the House and across the country for meaningful action to stand up for Hong Kong.
The idea of “Global Britain”, so often trumpeted in recent weeks, is meaningless if we are timid in the area of international human rights. We must make our voice heard on essential values such as the rule of law and liberal democracy.
I believe that there will be cross-party support and grassroots backing from expat communities to progress this legislation. If the Government intends to give substance to its global rhetoric, it should put its weight behind the Bill as well.
Alistair Carmichael’s Ten Minute Rule Motion will take place on Tuesday 25 February