The UK’s fourth-largest party has promised to issue new British National Overseas (BNO) passports to Hong Kong citizens and give holders right of abode in Britain, if it wins parliamentary elections next month.
In its freshly-released election manifesto, the Liberal Democrats said the move would honour the the UK’s ‘moral and legal duty’ under the 1984 Sino-British declaration to ensure that the rights of Hong Kong people are protected.
In an article published in the UK’s ‘Independent’ newspaper, parliamentary candidate Chuka Umunna said “Beijing has clearly now reneged on the promises of the Handover. They have dismissed the Sino-British Declaration lodged at the United Nations, and backtracked on the “one country, two systems” principle.”
He said while only around 169,000 Hong Kong residents still hold active BNO passports, the Lib Dems would reopen the scheme to Hong Kong citizens for the first time since the scheme concluded in 1997, ten years after it was launched.
And while the existing passport gives holders benefits such as the right to stay in Britain for half a year as a visitor, they do not have right of abode in the UK.
Umunna said this would change under a Lib Dem government.
“We would also extend the BNO Passport so it provides the right of abode. This would give Hong Kong citizens who hold a BNO passport the right to live or work indefinitely the UK without any immigration restrictions or the need for a visa”, he wrote.
Umunna said the situation in Hong Kong in the wake of the anti-extradition protests has “spiralled out of control.”
“Live rounds of ammunition have been used and reports of police violence and harassment have been widespread. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, has failed to de-escalate the situation and Beijing shows no sign of relenting”, he said.
The MP said reopening the BNO offer and giving holders right of abode would not only protect the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, it would send a “clear message to Beijing that the erosion must stop and be reversed. The measure will help prevent any future violations, giving teeth to the promises of the Handover.”
The Liberal Democrats is the only Great Britain-wide party to be campaigning on cancelling Brexit, and is hoping to make substantial gains in the December 12 election. While most observers don’t expect it to win outright, it could be a kingmaker or even form part of a coalition government.
They were last in coalition between 2010 and 2015. They have support across the country, but it is too thinly spread from them to benefit from the First-Past-the Post electoral system.