Chris Patten and other talking heads should examine UK visitor controls before criticising Hong Kong’s
Grenville Cross says the UK has barred numerous individuals from entry for political reasons, yet British politicians prefer to obsess about Hong Kong’s immigration system, following the decision to deny entry to activist Benedict Rogers, rather than ensure their own house is in order
If anybody thought there was a God-given right to enter Hong Kong, the exclusion of Benedict Rogers will have disabused them of that notion. It is not uncommon for people to be refused entry into countries. In the UK, for example, former home secretary Jacqui Smith revealed in 2009 that, on average, five people a month were barred from entering Britain and reminded everyone that “coming to this country is a privilege”.
Rogers, a minor political functionary linked to Britain’s governing Conservative Party, lived in Hong Kong for several years after reunification, apparently without acquiring permanent residency. Now he dabbles in Hong Kong politics, albeit from afar. Having hosted various opposition figures visiting London, he paradoxically hailed Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung as “heroes”, which might bemuse the 10 security guards injured when they staged what the Court of Appeal called “a large-scale unlawful assembly, involving violence”.
British lawmakers to quiz Theresa May’s government over human rights campaigner being barred from Hong Kong
Rogers insisted he was coming to Hong Kong for a private visit, but this was clearly not a sightseeing holiday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said Rogers “must have been very clear as to whether he intended to interfere with the affairs of a special administrative region and the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary”. Beijing presumably did not want to admit an activist who might cause tensions at a sensitive time.
Although the Basic Law Article 154 entitles the Hong Kong government to apply immigration controls to “persons from foreign states and regions”, Article 12 provides that the central government is responsible for “foreign affairs relating to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”. If, therefore, the central government, often privy to matters not known to local officials, considers a visit by a foreign political figure to Hong Kong inimical to its interests, it has an overarching power to prevent such entry, as in the UK.
UK Home Office rules indicate that visitors may be denied entry if they were previously imprisoned. Through guidelines adopted in 2015, while Theresa May was still home secretary, they may also be barred if their presence is not considered “conducive to public good because of their conduct, convictions, character, associations or other reasons”. These generalised criteria leave people at the mercy of the Home Office. May also revealed that hundreds had been barred for “hate speech”.
Many people have been excluded from entering the UK, temporarily or permanently. Those identified include American boxer Mike Tyson, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Jamaican reggae musician Jah Cure, Dutch Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders, American talk show host Michael Savage, Hamas parliamentarian Yunis Al-Astal, Iranian major general Mohammed Ali Jafari, American preacher Louis Farrakhan, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Korean religious leader Sun Myung-moon and, the Associated Press reports, American whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
Hong Kong’s barring of British activist was a mistake, but it’s not a threat to ‘one country, two systems’
Once Rogers was banned, his associates mobilised. Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, who had met him in London, even urged the British government to make official protests to the Chinese and Hong Kong governments. Not to be outdone, former governor Chris Patten, fresh from a visit to Hong Kong in which he shamefully bad-mouthed our legal system while promoting his latest book, eagerly joined the fray. Declaring Rogers’ exclusion to be both “disturbing” and “inexplicable”, he blustered about contacting both Britain’s Foreign Office and its consulate general in Hong Kong.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the people who so recently maligned Hong Kong’s legal system have again taken up the cudgels to disparage our immigration arrangements and impugn our autonomy. David Alton, an obscure member of Britain’s House of Lords, and Christopher Smith, co-chair of a US congressional committee on China, were duly activated. They were both among the 25 signatories to a Guardian letter in August, which absurdly described the three lawbreakers as “political prisoners”, a label from which even Patten had the good sense to distance himself. Whereas Alton agreed to raise Rogers’ case in the House of Lords, Smith claimed that Rogers’ exclusion was “another audacious blow to Hong Kong’s autonomy”.
Instead of impugning Hong Kong’s immigration arrangements, which have done much over the years to protect our way of life, Patten and Alton would be well-advised to concentrate on assessing Britain’s own visitor controls. Parliament has debated excluding Donald Trump because of his views, though nothing came of it. Many people are quite clearly banned from Britain because the government does not like their political ideas, which may not be sufficient justification for excluding them. Patten, however, has apparently evinced little, if any, interest in ensuring his own house is in order, instead obsessing (for reasons of his own) about Hong Kong’s visitor controls, which generally work well.
In an email to The Guardian, Patten revealed that he contacted Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, following her equivocality over his status, seeking clarification of his own future position on entry. When she responds, Lam may wish to consider telling him that as long as he avoids traducing our legal system, maligning our officials and egging on our lawbreakers, he has nothing to worry about. If he promises to be on his best behaviour, she may even consider inviting him to tea at Government House.
Grenville Cross SC is a criminal justice analyst