Right of abode in Britain never on the cards for Hongkongers
Revelation that Britain put pressure on Portugal not to grant nationality to Macau residents ahead of handover is interesting but meaningless; a treaty had already been signed to deny Hong Kong people a full British passport
The denial of Hong Kong people the right to live in Britain as former colonial subjects is back in the news. First there was the plea last year by former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown to grant us right of abode should civil liberties deteriorate. The elderly politician overrated the attractions of his country and was misinformed about the political realities of Hong Kong. Still, he was well-meaning, if a tad condescending.
Now, there is more substantial revelation from newly declassified documents taken from the British cabinet files deposited in the National Archives in London.
Apparently, Britain tried to put pressure on Portugal not to grant right of abode or full nationality to its colonial residents in Macau to prevent Hong Kong people from asking for the same treatment ahead of the return to Chinese rule of the two cities.
From the looks of it, it didn’t try very hard; and it failed.
Some people in Hong Kong are shocked. I am not sure why they should be. That had been part and parcel of British policy towards Hong Kong, which is even codified in the Sino-British Joint Declaration under which the city was returned to the mainland.
Only the most naive people who have talked themselves into believing in the goodness of Britain and the evil of China could be surprised.
The memoranda exchanged between China and the United Kingdom, which form part of the Joint Declaration, make it clear the right of abode in Britain was out of the question for Hongkongers.
This is especially clear in the memorandum from Britain. It states that the status of the British Dependent Territories Citizens would be replaced by another status subsequently conferred by the British National (Overseas) passports.
It’s explicitly stated that holders of such passports have no right of abode in Britain.
It’s been argued the memoranda are not part of the Joint Declaration, so London granting right of abode now would not breach any treaty conditions. Well, the two memoranda are included in the bilateral treaty and were agreed upon by both countries.
I don’t find Britain to be completely cynical or acting in bad faith. London thought it had produced a reasonable treaty to guarantee freedoms and protection for Hong Kong people after 1997. To offer the right of abode – effectively political asylum – would have undercut its own professed faith in the treaty and confessed it was no good.