The United Kingdom says it intends to allow Hong Kong residents the chance to move to the UK and apply for citizenship, saying it wants to uphold its duty to the former British colony as China brings in sweeping new security measures.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament on Wednesday the government had made clear that if China continued down its current path in Hong Kong, the UK would introduce a new route for those with British national overseas status to enter the UK.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has also given details of the citizenship plan in the House of Commons, on the day China's new security law came into force in Hong Kong amid widespread international criticism.
Wednesday has seen further protests and clashes, on the 23rd anniversary of the city's handover by Britain to China.
Path to UK residency and citizenship
The prime minister told the Commons: "We made clear, Mr Speaker, 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."
The foreign secretary described the security law as a "grave and deeply disturbing step" and a "flagrant assault" on freedom of speech and protest in Hong Kong.
Giving more details of the citizenship scheme, Dominic Raab said that residence rights for Hong Kongers eligible for British National Overseas (BN0) passports would be extended to five years.
The new rules would allow three million Hong Kongers the right to live and work in Britain without the current six-month limit, he added. After five years in the UK, BNO passport holders could apply for settled status and then apply for citizenship 12 months after that.
Britain’s government estimates there are about 350,000 current holders of the BNO passports, with a total of around 2.9 million people eligible.
The new Chinese security measure has met with strong opposition within Hong Kong and condemnation from former colonial ruler Britain, the US, the European Union and others.
The European Union reiterated its "grave concerns about this law" on Wednesday, following strong criticism from EU leaders and human rights groups the previous day.
Johnson grilled over 'build build build' plan
Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Boris Johnson also faced scrutiny over the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to help the damaged economy.
The prime minister defended the government's economic programme, the day after he announced a "new deal" programme investing in infrastructure to boost economic recovery.
Capital spending allocations are to be fast-tracked to revamp schools, roads, hospitals and other developments. Johnson told the Commons the "build, build, build" programme would bring "jobs, jobs, jobs".
Critics say it is woefully inadequate given the scale of the crisis. Opposition Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the money was not new and amounted to just 0.2% of national spending.
The UK government has confirmed lockdown measures will not be lifted in Leicester, the city in central England where new clusters of COVID-19 have broken out. The prime minister has faced accusations that the authorities responded too slowly.