Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping
Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that he will have "no choice" but to offer UK visas to millions of Hong Kong residents if China pushes ahead with its plans for new national security legislation which critics fear would remove existing freedoms in the semi-autonomous region.

Writing in the Times of London newspaper on Wednesday, the prime minister warned that the new legislation would "dramatically erode" the island's autonomy, which currently enjoys judicial and political independence from mainland China.

The prime minister suggested that in response he would offer a 12-month extendable visa to all citizens on the island who are eligible to apply for a British National Overseas passport, some 3 million. It goes significantly further than the UK government's suggestion last week that it would extend visa rights to 300,000 holders of BNO passports, rather than all those eligible.

Johnson said: "Today about 350,000 people hold British Nationals (Overseas) passports and another 2.5 million people would be eligible to apply for them. At present these passports allow for visa-free access for up to six months."

"If China imposes its national security law, the British government will change its immigration rules and allow any holder of these passports from Hong Kong to come to the UK for a renewable period of 12 months and be given further immigration rights including the right to work which would place them on the route to citizenship."

Comment: And so as with the Windrush scandal, the UK will be quick to deny the renewal and deport them back to Hong Kong should it suit their whims.

He said the move would amount to "one of the biggest changes to our visa system in history. If it proves necessary Britain will take this step and take it willingly."

However, China hit back on Wednesday, warning Johnson that his intervention would "backfire."

"We advise the UK to step back from the brink, abandon their Cold War mentality and colonial mindset, and recognise and respect the fact that Hong Kong has returned [to China], Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular briefing, according to AFP.

Zhao added that London must "immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong's affairs and China's internal affairs, or this will definitely backfire."

Responding to the comments, Johnson's spokesman said on Wednesday: "As the PM said Britain wants nothing more than for Hong Kong to succeed under "one country, two systems."

"If China proceeds with this security legislation, this would be in direct conflict with its obligations under the joint declaration, a legally binding treaty registered with the United Nations.

"Britain would then have no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong."

The UK has also asked other close allies to consider offering residency to Hong Kong citizens if they begin to flee the island in large numbers due to Chinese repression.

Raab, the foreign secretary, said that he had invited the so-called "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing nations — the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada — to offer Hong Kong residents visas.

"I raised it on the Five Eyes call yesterday, the possibility of ... burden-sharing if we see a mass exodus from Hong Kong," he told the House of Commons on Tuesday.

"I don't actually think that is likely ... but he's right to raise it and we're on the case diplomatically," he said.