We have a duty to protect British Nationals in Hong Kong whose freedoms are under threat
The limited power of British National (Overseas) Passports, coupled with the recent situation in Hong Kong, has led to calls in the House and in Hong Kong for the rights of these Passport holders to be strengthened, writes Stephen Hammond MP.
Many of us in the House and across the country have been seriously concerned about the situation in Hong Kong and the ongoing protests and oppression of opposition.
The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental political right and should be defended anywhere in the world. Over the last year, we were all shocked at examples of police aggression towards the protestors.
I am pleased the Foreign Secretary has spoken in defence of the right to lawful and peaceful protesting Hong Kong, and that this has been raised with the Chinese and Hong Kong Governments.
I am also pleased that this Government is defending the “one country two systems” principle as set out in the Sino-British declaration. This is a live international treaty which is binding in international law. It is not a mere historic document as some have tried to suggest.
As a party to that treaty, it is our responsibility to speak up when it is at risk of being eroded.
But it is not just this treaty that binds the United Kingdom to Hong Kong, it is hundreds of years of shared history and ongoing cultural, economic and political links that make us stakeholders in its freedom and prosperity.
Those links are shown by the 300,000 full British citizens in Hong Kong, the 120 British Companies have their regional HQ in Hong Kong and the 200 with regional offices, and the fact that many of our top judges sit, or have sat, on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, strengthening the rule of law.
I was fortunate to lead a Parliamentary visit to Hong Kong two years ago and the vibrancy and potential of the economy was obvious to everyone.
So we in this country must speak up when the rights and freedoms of those in Hong Kong are under threat.
That duty is strongest towards the nearly 250,000 people who have British National (Overseas) Passports, or BN(O) Passports, those who have chosen to continue their links to our country after 1997.
The BNO status was created in the run up to the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule. Individuals with this nationality are British nationals and Commonwealth citizens, but not British citizens.
BN(O) passport holders do not have the right of abode in the United Kingdom or the same rights accorded to UK Citizens. Holders of BN(O) status merely enjoy visa-free travel to the United Kingdom as a visitor, which results in a maximum of six months leave to enter. Should a BN(O) holder wish to live and work in the United Kingdom, they would still be subject to the same requirements of the Immigration Rules.
This limited power of the BNO Passport, coupled with the recent situation in Hong Kong, has led to vocal calls both in the House and in Hong Kong for the rights of BNO Passport holders to be strengthened.
This is an extremely delicate area where the rights of individuals, historic and cultural links, live protests and ongoing diplomacy must be balanced, so in today’s debate I wish to air concerns rather than advocate any particular solution.
Instead, in my debate I will put forward some of some of options that have been raised.
These include potentially changing our Immigration Rules to give BN(O) Passport holders full residency, or if not appropriate, create a more favourable category of immigration entry for BN(O) holders could be considered, which could possibly mirror provisions for EEA Nationals, or set out shorter time periods of residency before BN(O) holders can obtain indefinite leave to remain, or revised asylum criteria.
I look forward to this debate later in the day, and I hope my comments will provide some food for thought for the Minister, and I very much look forward to hearing their thoughts.
Stephen Hammond is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Wimbledon.
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