Tensions between the United Kingdom and China over coronavirus and Huawei have been compounded by the communist state’s actions in Hong Kong in the past year, most recently with China passing a law that effectively institutionalises the oppression of the pro-democracy movement in the former British colony.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said on May 29th that “if China continues down this path”, the UK would
increase the limit of stay in the UK for British Nationals Overseas (BNO) passport holders from six months to 12 months, which “will itself provide a pathway to future citizenship”. Currently, there are some 350,000 BNO passport holders; Prime Minister Johnson this week extended that offer to three million Hong Kong residents in what he admitted would “amount to one of the biggest changes in our visa system in history”.
In the Conservative Party’s December 2019 election manifesto, Boris Johnson
pledged to introduce an Australia-style points-based immigration system, which he told the electorate would bring down the number of migrants coming into the country. However, unlike the Australian system, Mr Johnson refused to put a cap on numbers, putting his manifesto at odds with the three previous Conservative Party documents that had pledged to bring the number down to the “tens of thousands”. Those pledges were also not fulfilled, with the former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne admitting in 2017 that it was a promise to the voters that the Tory governments never intended on keeping.
Migration Watch UK
said at the time that the Tories were not “courageous enough” to put a cap on the number of immigrants. This recent offer to Hong Kong, which would further increase what is predicted to be more uncontrolled immigration, has resulted in added censure from the think tank.
Commenting on the government’s proposal, Alp Mehmet, the chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “With unemployment rapidly running into millions here, a potential inflow of up to three million people will prove deeply damaging. This is an ill-conceived, half-baked idea that risks undermining the democratic opposition’s efforts by pulling the rug from under their feet – something that will delight Beijing. The government really must think again about how best to support Hong Kong’s democratic opposition. This is not the way.”
Migration Watch UK has warned that even without including dependents, the potential number of people eligible to stay in the UK and apply for citizenship is “staggering”. The think tank calculated that the influx would be the equivalent to the combined populations of four major British cities: Birmingham (1.15 million), Leeds (780,000), Manchester (550,000), and Edinburgh (500,000).
Both Mr Raab and leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg have said that the UK must offer a pathway to citizenship for the eligible people in Hong Kong to honour “historical responsibilities” and “historic commitments”.
The mass migration-sceptic think tank said of these assertions: “It can be argued that the UK retains a measure of responsibility for Hong Kong as a former colonial power between the 1840s and 1997. However, it is not true that honouring such commitments requires an offer of a pathway to citizenship.”
The think tank continued that the UK’s agreement with China — the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration — mitigated against this, with a 2007 British government review saying that giving BNO passport holders would be a breach of this agreement. The government had also reiterated from the 2007 review clarifications that only British citizens and certain Commonwealth citizens had the right of abode in the UK.
Migration Watch UK also rejected analogies between the current situation with Hong Kong and the expulsion of 30,000 Ugandan Indians by Idi Amin in 1972. Ugandan Indians held passports at the time that did not confer Right of Abode, but did make them citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. China is also not threatening to expel Hong Kong residents, although the question of other human rights abuses is clear. The number of Hong Kong people offered residency is significantly higher than the tens of thousands of Ugandan Indians that came in the 1970s.
The think tank warned against these reinterpretations of Britain’s immigration laws based on “historic responsibilities” and influenced by the “behaviour of successor regimes”, in that it could lead to arguments to open Britain’s borders to millions more.
“This is clearly untenable and would be an unwise precedent to set. Must similar routes now be proposed for groups of people in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Myanmar, Belize, Jamaica, British Guiana, and Papua New Guinea depending upon the behaviour of their respective current governments?” the think tank said.
In November 2019, the Office for National Statistics (ONS)
revealed that non-EU immigration had hit near-record levels. The government statistics agency said that around 609,000 immigrants moved to the UK in the year to June 2019, while 397,000 emigrated, resulting in a net migration figure of 212,000. May 2020 statistics also revealed that the number of foreign-born workers had reached a record high, 5.9 million in total comprised of 2.5 million EU migrants and 3.4 million non-EU migrants.