Up to three million Hong Kong residents should have a chance to settle in the UK and finally apply for citizenship, said Boris Johnson.
The prime minister said that Hong Kong’s freedoms were being violated by a new security law and that those affected would be given a “route” to leave the former British colony.
Approximately 350,000 UK passport holders and 2.6 million others eligible will be able to come to the UK for five years.
And after another year, they will be able to apply for citizenship.
British foreign passport holders in Hong Kong received special status in the 1980s, but currently have restricted rights and are only entitled to visa-free access to the UK for six months.
Under government plans, all foreign British citizens and their dependents will have the right to remain in the UK, including the right to work and study, for five years. At that time, they will be able to apply for status and, after another year, seek citizenship.
The prime minister said that the approval of a new security law by the Hong Kong authorities on Tuesday was a “clear and serious violation” of the 1985 Sino-British joint declaration – a legally binding agreement that establishes how certain freedoms will be protected for the next 50 years. China assumed sovereignty in 1997.
“This violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and threatens the freedoms and rights protected by the joint declaration,” he said.
“We clarify that if China continued on this path, we would introduce a new route for those with British (foreign) status to enter the UK, granting them a limited license to remain with the ability to live and work in the UK and, later, to apply for citizenship. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do now. “
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sir Simon McDonald, expressed the government’s “deep concern” about the new law in China during a meeting with the country’s ambassador, Liu Xioming.
Updating parliamentarians on the details, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said there would be no limit on numbers or quotas and that the registration process would be simple.
“This is a set of special and personalized agreements, developed for the unique circumstances we face and in light of our historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong,” he said.
Speaking to the ITV Peston program, Raab acknowledged that “there would be little we could do … to cohesively force” China to allow overseas British citizens to come to the UK.
Downing Street said more details of the scheme will be detailed “in due course”.
Meanwhile, British foreign passport holders in Hong Kong will be able to travel to the UK immediately, subject to standard immigration checks, said the prime minister’s official spokesman.
They will also not face salary thresholds to obtain their visas, he added.
Hong Kong’s new national security law, which targets secession, subversion and terrorism with sentences up to life imprisonment, went into effect on Tuesday.
Several people have already been arrested under the new powers, including a man carrying a pro-independence flag, when police used pepper spray to disperse some demonstrators gathered to mark 23 years since the British government ended.
Critics say it effectively puts an end to the “one country, two systems” principle enshrined in the Joint Declaration. China has rejected criticism of its actions, saying they are internal affairs.
The UK government is under increasing pressure to maintain a firm line with Beijing’s parliamentarians, concerned about China’s increasingly assertive role regionally and the security implications of the Chinese company’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network.
Raab said he wanted a positive relationship with China, but Beijing “broke its promise” to the people of Hong Kong through its “flagrant assault” on freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly.
Labor said they welcomed the government’s action, but said there should be no discrimination against people allowed to enter the UK based on income or other factors.
Shadow Foreign Affairs Secretary Lisa Nandy said the United Kingdom also has a responsibility to consider the welfare of those who have not been able to relocate or wish to stay in Hong Kong.
She urged the government to work with its international partners, through the UN, to force an investigation into police brutality in Hong Kong and also asked the UK to review its trade relationship with China.
“For a long time in relation to China, we had no strategy at home and no strategy abroad. I hope he can commit to us today that this marks the beginning of a very different era,” she said.