What connects China’s systematic abuse of human rights with the Tory party’s commitment to a “global Britain” post-Brexit?
The answer is Hong Kong. Even before the protests of recent months captured the world’s attention, China’s erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong and its sprawling security presence meant that the rights and freedoms which the UK is treaty-bound to defend had slipped into a perilous state.
Now, as the protest movement hardens its resistance, locals are braced for retaliation by the Communist regime against which so many have demonstrated.
Here in the UK, there are growing calls for the government to take a more proactive and supportive position. Since the summer, think-tanks and prominent parliamentarians have, much to the fury of China’s ambassador in London, pressed the case for a reformed immigration policy that would give Hong Kong citizens the freedom to come to Britain.
At present, around 250,000 Hong Kongers hold a British National Overseas (BNO) passport, the main benefit of which is the right to visit the UK for six months.
Home secretary Priti Patel is understood to have pushed for a change in the BNO status that would grant the holders of such passports the automatic right to settle in the UK.
According to reports, Patel has spoken of the moral imperative to allow those who fear for their lives or liberty to escape the former British colony without the threat of being sent back after six months.
The home secretary knows how valuable a helping hand from Britain can be: her own parents fled Idi Amin’s Uganda as ex-British citizens and settled here. Patel is right about the moral imperative and right to consider how China may seek to stamp its authority on Hong Kong.
Changing the statues of BNO passport holders, and allowing others to apply for it, will not result in a wave of immigration to the UK. It will, however, give support and a possible escape route to an oppressed people whose fragile rights we have pledged to uphold.
The home secretary and her officials believe that creating safe passage for Hong Kongers would make a statement about the kind of country we seek to be as we leave the EU.
Alas, foreign secretary Dominic Raab is, according to the Sunday Times, blocking the home secretary’s plans on the grounds that it would antagonise the Chinese.
Let us hope that if Patel remains at the Home Office after 12 December, she wins this important battle.
Main image: Getty