UK unveils escape route for 3m Hong Kongers to flee Chinese oppression

UK unveils ‘special bespoke’ escape route for three million Hong Kong residents as Boris Johnson blasts China over draconian new dissent law branding it a ‘clear and serious breach’ of its autonomy

  •  Prime Minister hit out after the introduction of a a landmark new security law
  • Gives communist state draconian powers to punish dissent in ex-UK territory
  • Confirmed UK would open its doors to those living there to escape to Britain

Boris Johnson unveiled firm plans for the UK to take in up to three million Hong Kong residents today as he blasted China over a draconian new clampdown on opposition.  

The Prime Minister hit out after the introduction of a landmark new security law giving the communist state sweeping powers to punish dissent in the former British territory.

He said that the legislation – which sparked a new wave of protests today – was a a ‘clear and serious violation’ of the joint declaration between the UK and China over Hong Kong’s future. 

And he said that the UK would open its doors to those living there to come to Britain to escape the clampdown by the totalitarian regime.  

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions today Mr Johnson said: ‘The enactment an imposition of this national security law constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British joint declaration.

‘It violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and is in direct conflicts with Hong Kong’s basic laws. The law also threatens freedoms 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 them 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.’

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab later told MPs that BNOs would receive five-years’ leave to remain under a ‘bespoke’ immigration plan. 

A man with a ‘Hong Kong Independence’ flag was the first to be arrested hours after the law came into force, 23 years to the day since Britain returned the former colony to Chinese rule. 

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy raised concerns over police brutality in Hong Kong and called for an inquiry.

She told the Commons: ‘Overnight pepper spray and water cannons were used against the pro-democracy protesters. It is now time for Britain to lead on an inquiry into police brutality.’

The Prime Minister hit out after the introduction of a a landmark new security law giving the communist state draconian powers to punish dissent in the former British territory

There were protests in Hong Kong after the law came into force, 23 years to the day since Britain returned the former colony to Chinese rule

Mr Johnson is under pressure from across the political spectrum to take a firmer stance against Beijing, including over the role of Chinese firm Huawei in the UK’s 5G network.

He was also facing calls to act over the breach of the 1985 Sino-British Joint Declaration, the legally binding agreement to give Hong Kong a level of autonomy for at least 50 years under the ‘one party, two systems’ plan.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs this afternoon: ‘For our part, the PM and the Government are crystal clear, the UK will keep its word. 

‘We will live up to our responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong and I can tell the House that after further detailed discussions with the Home Secretary, I can now confirm we will proceed to honour our commitment to change the arrangements for those holding BNO status.

‘And I can update honourable members that we have worked with ministers right across Whitehall and we have now developed proposals for a bespoke immigration route for BNOs and their dependants. We will grant BNOs five years’ limited leave to remain, with a right to work or study.

‘After these five years they’ll be able to apply for settled status and after a further 12 months with settled status, they will be able to apply for citizenship. 

‘This is a special bespoke set of arrangements, developed for the unique circumstances we face and in light of our historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong. All of those with BNO status will be eligible as will their dependants who are usually resident in Hong Kong and the Home Office will put in place a simple streamlined application process and I can reassure (honourable members) there will be no quotas on numbers.’

The legislation – which would allow authorities to crack down on subversive and secessionist activity in the former British colony – has strained relations with Britain and the US. 

China rammed the law through its rubber-stamp parliament and kept the wording shrouded in secrecy, but finally revealed details last night – unveiling strict new measures which could see Hong Kong protesters repressed on the mainland.

Vandalism against government buildings or public transport can now be treated as subversion or terrorism with life sentences for those who break the rules.

China’s feared security agencies will openly set up shop in Hong Kong for the first time, and human rights groups say the law has ‘frightening loopholes’ which could allow Beijing to round up protesters and extradite them to the mainland.

Beijing has faced a chorus of anger over the law but insists it is only aimed at a ‘handful of criminals’ and told foreign critics it was ‘none of your business’.

Police display a public announcement banner showing a warning to protesters in Causeway Bay before the annual handover march in Hong Kong thoday

Police detain a protester after spraying pepper spray during a protest marking the 23rd anniversary of UK pulling out of Hong Kong in 1997

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs this afternoon that the legislation contains measures that ‘directly threaten the freedoms and rights’ of the people of Hong Kong

The UK has offered to allow almost three million of Hong Kong’s inhabitants the opportunity to come to Britain if Beijing imposes the national security law.

Boris Johnson has said he would effectively upgrade the status of British National (Overseas) passports, which 350,000 people in Hong Kong hold and 2.5 million are eligible to apply for, to grant immigration rights beyond the current six-month limit.

Mr told MPs this afternoon that the legislation contains measures that ‘directly threaten the freedoms and rights’ of the people of Hong Kong.

He said: ‘First, the legislation violates the high degree of autonomy, executive and legitimate powers and independent judicial authority provided for in paragraph 3 of the joint declaration.’

Mr Raab told MPs that the legislation also contains measures ‘that directly threaten the freedoms and rights protected by the joint declaration’.

He said the measures ‘represent a flagrant assault on freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful protest for the people of Hong Kong’.

Mr Raab said: ‘Third, the legislation provides that Hong Kong’s chief executive rather than the chief justice will appoint judges to hear national security cases, a move that clearly risks undermining the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary.’ 

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab addressed reporters outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office this morning

Tom Tugendhat, the Tory chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, raised concerns about Chinese influence in the UK’s universities.

Mr Tugendhat said he welcomes the Government’s commitment to those holding BNO passports.

He added: ‘Can I also, however, state that the nature of extraterritoriality that he speaks about has direct implications on our own university sector and on freedom of speech within our own academic institutions as Chinese students have already been influenced to silence debate and change outcomes here in the UK.’

On British judges sitting in Hong Kong, Mr Tugendhat said: ‘How can they do that, how can they defend civil rights and commercial rights if they are being violated by the very law they are sent to uphold?’

He added: ‘And as one final point, would he join with me and the chairs of the select committees of Australia, Canada and New Zealand and call not just to make a statement at the UN Human Rights Council, but to ask that same council to send a special rapporteur to Hong Kong, because what happens in Hong Kong matters to the whole world?’

The Hong Kong crackdown begins: Police fire water cannon at protesters and man holding independence flag becomes the first to be arrested under China’s new security law

Hong Kong police today made their first arrests under a landmark new security law giving Beijing draconian powers to punish dissent in the city. 

A man with a ‘Hong Kong Independence’ flag was the first to be arrested hours after the law came into force, and 23 years to the day since Britain returned the former colony to China – with the city’s cherished freedoms now in doubt. 

Police later made six more arrests under the new law – including a 15-year-old girl with another independence flag – while 180 people were detained on other charges after a new round of protests which led to authorities firing water cannon.   

China rammed the law through its rubber-stamp parliament and kept the wording shrouded in secrecy, but finally revealed details last night – unveiling strict new measures which could see Hong Kong protesters repressed on the mainland. 

Vandalism against government buildings or public transport can now be treated as subversion or terrorism with life sentences for those who break the rules. 

China’s feared security agencies will openly set up shop in Hong Kong for the first time, and human rights groups say the law has ‘frightening loopholes’ which could allow Beijing to round up protesters and extradite them to the mainland.  

Beijing has faced a chorus of anger over the law, including from Britain which today called it a ‘clear and serious violation’ of the treaty which led to the 1997 handover.  

However, China insists the law is only aimed at a ‘handful of criminals’ and told foreign critics it was ‘none of your business’. 

The first victim of China’s new security law: A man with a ‘Hong Kong Independence’ flag was arrested in Causeway Bay hours after the law came into force

A woman was arrested for carrying this sign calling for ‘Hong Kong independence’ which was decorated with British and American flags 

Riot police deploy pepper spray towards journalists as protesters gathered for a rally against the new national security law in Hong Kong 

Police fired water cannon to disperse protesters today after the passage of a law which China claims will not affect Hong Kong’s freedoms despite international criticism 

Riot police gesture during a rally against the new security law in Hong Kong today as the law’s passage coincided with the 23rd anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule  

Activists say the bill will be ‘the end of Hong Kong as we know it’ while China insists it is necessary to restore order after months of violent clashes in the city (pictured, protesters march in Hong Kong today)

Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam strongly endorsed the new law in her speech marking the 23rd anniversary of the handover today.  

‘This decision was necessary and timely to maintain Hong Kong’s stability,’ Lam said following a flag-raising ceremony and the playing of China’s national anthem.

Speaking at the harbour-front venue where the last British governor Chris Patten handed Hong Kong back to Chinese rule, Lam described it as the most important development in the 23 years since then.   

Luo Huining, the head of Beijing’s top representative office in Hong Kong, said at the ceremony that the law was a ‘common aspiration’ of Hong Kong citizens. 

A pro-democracy party, The League of Social Democrats, organised a protest march during the flag-raising ceremony. 

About a dozen participants chanted slogans echoing demands from protesters last year for political reform and an investigation into accusation of police abuse.

The law’s passage topples the legal firewall that has existed between the city’s judiciary and the mainland’s party-controlled courts. 

Critics say the law effectively ends the ‘one country, two systems’ framework under which Hong Kong was promised a ‘high degree of autonomy’ after the handover.

China promised to maintain Hong Kong’s way of life for at least 50 years, but 23 of them have passed and critics say that Beijing has already reneged on the deal.  

Article 55 of the law states that Beijing’s national security office in Hong Kong could exercise jurisdiction over ‘complex’ or ‘serious’ cases. 

In Beijing, Zhang Xiaoming of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said suspects arrested by Beijing’s new security office could be tried on the mainland. 

He said the mainland’s national security office abided by Chinese law and that Hong Kong”s legal system could not be expected to implement the laws of the mainland.

Local authorities are barred from interfering with central government bodies operating in Hong Kong while they are carrying out their duties, according to the text of the law. 

Schools, social groups, media outlets, websites and others will be monitored while China’s central government will have authority over the activities of foreign non-governmental organizations and media outlets in Hong Kong. 

Article 38 even suggests that people living outside Hong Kong could be prosecuted for crimes committed abroad.   

Police have already begun enforcing the new law, holding up a purple banner warning protesters that they could be prosecuted under it. 

A woman with a sign saying ‘Hong Kong independence’ adorned with British and American flags met the same fate as the first man arrested, with police vowing to ‘take resolute enforcement action in accordance with’ the new law. 

‘Advocacy for independence of Hong Kong is against the law,’ security minister John Lee told reporters. 

More than 70 others were arrested over illegal gatherings, although they were not detained under the new law.  

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam (central) stands with former chief executives as they attend a flag-raising ceremony to mark 23  years since the colony was handed back to China 

The Chinese and Hong Kong flags are unfurled during a flag-raising ceremony at the Golden Bauhinia Square in Hong Kong

Critics of the national security law staged a protest in Hong Kong today to coincide with the flag-raising ceremony 

Riot police clear a street as protesters gathered to rally against the new national security law

A protester (right) dressed as a Chinese police officer takes part in a protest in Causeway Bay today 

A campaign group called Fight for Freedom: Stand With Hong Kong said it was the ‘darkest day for the people of Hong Kong since the handover in 1997’. 

‘What it means is that Hong Kong, as the world knows it, is dead,’ the group said, comparing the law to the construction of the Berlin Wall. 

‘This sweeping law has effectively ended ‘One Country, Two Systems’, which has been the foundation of Hong Kong’s prosperity.’  

More than two dozen countries – including Britain, France, Germany and Japan – urged Beijing to reconsider the law, saying in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council that it undermines the city’s freedoms.

The U.S. has already begun moves to end special trade terms given to the territory, saying military exports could fall into the hands of the Communist Party.  

Congress has also moved to impose sanctions on people deemed connected to political repression in Hong Kong, including police officials. 

Britain has said it could offer residency and possible citizenship to about three million of Hong Kong’s 7.5million people.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said today that Beijing had breached the Joint Declaration between the UK and China which agreed the terms of the handover.

Due to make a statement to MPs in the House of Commons later in the day, Mr Raab said he will ‘honour’ the UK commitment to those with the British National (Overseas) nationality. 

His Labour counterpart Lisa Nandy said the government had ‘failed to provide further details’ on its proposals since first voicing them five weeks ago, and urged Mr Raab to ‘lay out the concrete steps he will take’ later today.  

China has said it will impose visa restrictions on Americans it sees as interfering over Hong Kong.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the threat of a visa ban as a sign of ‘how Beijing refuses to take responsibility for its own choices’ and said the law’s adoption ‘destroys the territory’s autonomy and one of China’s greatest achievements.’

Beijing’s ‘paranoia and fear of its own people’s aspirations have led it to eviscerate the very foundation of the territory’s success,’ Pompeo said in a statement.

Canada, meanwhile, updated a travel advisory for citizens in Hong Kong warning that they faced an increased risk of arbitrary detention or even extradition to China.

China said Canada’s actions were ‘completely unreasonable.’ ‘Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs, no foreign country should interfere,’ foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular briefing.

In Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a breakaway province, authorities opened a new office to deal with Hong Kongers seeking refuge.

Around 5,000 Hong Kongers moved to Taiwan last year as the city was shaken by massive anti-government protests. 

Helicopters fly the Hong Kong and China flags over Victoria Harbour as Hong Kong marks the 23rd anniversary of its handover to China

At her weekly press conference on Tuesday morning, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam (pictured) – a pro-Beijing appointee – declined to comment on what the law contained

Pro-Beijing supporters wave Chinese and Hong Kong flags and drink champagne today as they celebrate a controversial new security law 

Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the legislation is aimed at a few ‘troublemakers’ and will not affect rights and freedoms. 

Zhang, the official at the Hong Kong and Macau office, rejected foreign criticism of the law today and said: ‘It’s none of your business’. 

‘If what we want is one country, one system, it would have been simple,’ Zhang said. ‘We are completely able to impose the criminal law, the criminal procedure and the national security law and other national laws on Hong Kong. 

‘Why would we need to put so much effort into formulating a national security law tailor-made for Hong Kong?’ 

Some pro-Beijing officials and political commentators say the law is aimed at sealing Hong Kong’s ‘second return’ to the motherland after the first failed to secure order. 

They also say the measure will restore business confidence after a year of historic pro-democracy protests.  

Millions took to the streets last year while a smaller hardcore of protesters frequently battled police in violent confrontations that saw more than 9,000 arrested.

Hong Kong banned protests in recent months, citing previous unrest and the coronavirus pandemic, although local transmissions have ended.  

‘With the release of the full detail of the law, it should be clear to those in any doubt that this is not the Hong Kong they grew up in,’ said Hasnain Malik, head of equity research at Tellimer in Dubai. 

‘I saw this morning there are celebrations for Hong Kong”s handover, but to me it is a funeral, a funeral for ‘one country two systems’,’ said lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki. 

China yesterday boasted of holding ‘a sword over lawbreakers’ heads’ after Beijing passed the new security law.

President Xi Jinping signed the law into effect Tuesday after it was unanimously passed by Beijing’s rubber-stamp parliament, side-stepping a vote in Hong Kong.  

A pro-China supporter takes a selfie at a rally in Hong Kong today as news filtered out that the new security law had been passed 

Hong Kong police detain a pro-democracy protester during demonstrations in May

Pro-democracy campaigner Joshua Wong (pictured) said that ‘sweeping powers and ill-defined law’ would make Hong Kong into a ‘secret police state’

The ‘one country, two systems’ formed the bedrock of the city’s transformation into a world-class business hub, bolstered by a reliable judiciary.

Critics have long accused Beijing of chipping away at that status, but they describe the security law as the most brazen move yet.

Human rights groups have warned the law could target opposition politicians seen as insufficiently loyal to Beijing for arrest or disqualification. 

Amnesty International said before the law was published in full that it appeared to contain ‘frightening loopholes that would enable mainland authorities to detain and try suspects’. 

‘There are also questions over whether the law will allow national security detainees to be treated differently from other criminal suspects,’ Amnesty said. 

‘This could include being held in special detention facilities or being detained for indefinite periods of time. It could even involve being extradited to the mainland – a threat that prompted, and was blunted by, the 2019 protest movement.’ 

On the mainland, national security laws are routinely used to jail critics, especially for the vague offence of ‘subversion’.

‘It marks the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before,’ said activist figurehead Joshua Wong, as he quit the pro-democracy Demosisto party he founded during the 2014 umbrella protest amid fears of reprisals.

‘With sweeping powers and ill-defined law, the city will turn into a secret police state. Hong Kong protesters now face high possibilities of being extradited to China’s courts for trials and life sentences,’ he added.  

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