Carmichael introduces Bill on support for Hong Kong

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has today spoken in the House of Commons to launch a Bill to support democracy protestors in Hong Kong. The Bill, which has support from MPs of all major parties, would re-open the offer of a British National Overseas (BNO) passports for Hong Kong citizens and extend the scheme to provide the “right of abode”, allowing a person to live or work indefinitely in the UK. The Bill’s co-sponsors are:

Wendy Chamberlain (LD)

Wera Hobhouse (LD)

Jim Shannon (DUP)

Alyn Smith (SNP)

Andrew Rosindell (Con)

Bob Seely (Con)

Caroline Lucas (Grn)

Liz Saville-Roberts (PC)

Virenda Sharma (Lab)

Stephen Timms (Lab)


Text of speech as follows:

I beg to move that leave be given bring in a bill to place requirements on the Government relating to the Sino-British Joint Declaration 1984 and human rights in Hong Kong; to make provision about immigration for Hong Kong residents including granting rights to live in the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes.

Before I start, I must thank Honourable Members from across this House who have offered their support for this Bill, either as co-sponsors or through their further support for the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong. I would also pay tribute to the work of Hong Kong Watch, of which I am a patron, and other civic organisations which have worked tirelessly to advance the cause of democracy in Hong Kong. Lastly, I could not go on without stating my great admiration for the people of Hong Kong themselves, who have shown fortitude and resilience to their cause in the face of adversity and active suppression.

The status of British Nationals Overseas in Hong Kong and their right to abode in the UK is an issue on which my party, with others, has campaigned for decades.  I believe that it speaks to our values of internationalism, support for the rule of law, and liberal democracy.

During the handover process in the 1980s and 1990s, my party demanded that the people of Hong Kong be given the right of abode in the UK if China were to renege on promises made in the Sino-British Declaration. Our leader Paddy Ashdown led this call, knowing the UK could not guarantee the promises we’d made without this supportive measure.

Some decades later it is clear that the value of the joint declaration is being challenged by China and that is why the issue of the British National Overseas Passport holders is more important today than it has ever been.

This is not, however, a party-political issue.

At the formation of the first-ever All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong last month, Members from all sides of the political discourse came together to create a new parliamentary focus for scrutiny of China’s actions and hold our own Government to account.

China has repeatedly undermined the principles of the Joint Declaration in recent years, weakening Hong Kong’s democratic systems. The “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement is a shadow of what it was supposed to be, mocked by Beijing officials as a “historical document”. Former Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten, denounced this dismissive behaviour last month in the inaugural Paddy Ashdown Memorial Lecture. As he said: “A treaty is what all the contractual signatories agree it is. A treaty is not simply whatever one side says it is.”

Far worse than Beijing’s rhetoric, however, are their actions on the ground. Reports of police brutality against protestors have arrived almost daily since the start of protests against proposed extradition laws last summer. That the Chinese state has reneged on the Sino-British Joint Declaration is no longer a matter of debate.

If there ever were a time to act in support of Hong Kong, it is now.

The bill that I seek the House’s leave to introduce is supported and promoted by members from all sides of the House. It is not, I would suggest, a particularly radical set of proposals, but it is a necessary one.

It seeks to discourage further infringements on Hong Kong’s historic freedoms, by reopening the BNO passport scheme and establishing the right to abode in the UK for BNO passport holders. For Hongkongers themselves this is one of the most important signals that we can send.  It is a signal that we have not forgotten the obligations that we have to them and that, as it begins to look as if some of their worst fears may be significant then we in the UK shall do more than stand on the side-lines wringing our hands.

Since the joint declaration was signed and implemented, however, international law has moved on significantly and it is only right that account should be taken of changes such as the evolution of Magnitsky sanctions.

The joint declaration already includes a mandate for the UK Government to strengthen the six-monthly reports so that they issue a judgement on whether the Joint Declaration has been breached. The problem with that, however, is that as things stand there is no meaningful sanction for those responsible for any breach. That is why I am calling today for the government to commit to employing Magnitsky-style sanctions for those whom it is judged have been responsible for Human Rights violations whether in Hong Kong or else in China. This again would be a powerful signal that the United Kingdom is serious about our commitments to Hong Kong.

These actions would not set us apart from the international consensus. Far from it. At the end of last year, the United States passed a bill to take measures against those responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong, and to ensure an annual review into their trading relationship with China. The bill was supported across Congress, a reminder that standing up for democracy is no party-political issue.

I am realistic about the prospects of success for this Bill, which starts as a ten-minute rule motion today. There are some who would say that it is better to keep our heads down and avoid making waves when it comes to an important trading partner.

Members will have noticed already this week That former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, was moved to rebuke publicly the Government for what he saw as misrepresentation of his legal advice on the issue of granting the right to abode. That was a quite extraordinary move and one which I hope will act as a shot across the bows of the government. If there are good reasons not to act then the government should explain them. Good reasons, however, are one thing. Excuses are quite another.

Lord Goldsmith has been clear: “the UK Government can extend full right of abode to BNO passport holders without breaching its side of the Sino-British Joint Declaration”.

I say to the government today - this is an issue that is not going to go away.  We have seen the continued resistance shown by Hongkongers over these past months. They are not keeping their heads down, they are making waves, and that is why there is growing enthusiasm in the House and across the country for meaningful action to stand up for Hong Kong.

Rather than sitting on our hands, the UK can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Hong Kong. I am calling on the Government to take an active approach by adopting this bill. It is time to do what we should have done during the Handover: give the people of Hong Kong the guarantees they need, by providing their right to live in the UK.

The idea of “Global Britain”, so often trumpeted in recent weeks, is meaningless if we are timid in the advancement of international human rights. Human rights are nothing if they are not universal.  What is good for us here must also be good for those in Hong Kong. This House must make its voice heard on essential values such as the rule of law and liberal democracy. I believe that there will be cross-party support and grassroots backing around the country and beyond to move this legislation forward.

If the Government intends to give substance to its global rhetoric, it should put its weight behind the Bill as well.

Share this post on social media:

Sign in with Facebook, Twitter or Email.