Over a hundred MPs call on Commonwealth countries to offer citizenship to Hong Kongers

Nearly 130 MPs are calling on the UK government to urge Commonwealth nations to grant people from Hong Kong citizenship to give them a chance to escape growing unrest.

“We urge you to seek international support for an insurance policy for the people of Hong Kong,” reads a letter to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, signed by MPs including Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Tom Tugendhat and Chris Patten, the last colonial governor of Hong Kong.

The letter – also signed by MPs Ian Blackford, Sarah Champion and Alistair Carmichael – presses Mr Raab to raise the issue at a meeting of Commonwealth leaders next June in Rwanda as a way to “send a strong message to China that the people of Hong Kong are not alone.” 

The letter comes after the Chinese ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming accused some British politicians of having a "colonial mindset". Beijing has frequently decried “foreign interference", blaming Western nations including the UK for fomenting unrest in Hong Kong in a challenge to China.

Mass protests were first sparked by an extradition proposal that would have sent suspects to face trial in mainland China where the Communist Party controls the courts, and have since evolved to include calls for full democratic rights and police accountability. 

Students take part in a rally at the University of Hong KongCredit:

Activists say civil liberties are fast-eroding in Hong Kong, where freedoms are guaranteed under an agreement that kicked in when the former colony was returned to Beijing rule in 1997.

The UK government has become more vocal about the protests in Hong Kong as they spill from summer into autumn. Politicians have urged China to continue recognising the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as Beijing had previously dismissed it as a “historical document [that] no longer has any practical significance.” 

In June, the UK halted new export licenses for crowd control equipment after human rights groups said Hong Kong police were firing tear gas made by British contractor PW Defence.

Key MPs including Mr Tugendhat have urged the government to extend rights to British National Overseas passport holders. Introduced in the last decade of colonial rule, the BNO passport, with its burgundy cover and coat of arms, looks like a regular British passport but doesn’t provide holders the right to live and work in the UK, long a point of contention. 

And a Parliamentary motion this month also called on the UK seek agreements with Commonwealth nations to grant citizenship rights to Hong Kong people.

Hong Kong crisis | Comment and analysis

Protests ending in tear gas volleys from police and fire bombs from demonstrators continue to disrupt Hong Kong, even after leaders last week verbally agreed to one concession: to formally withdraw the controversial extradition proposal. 

The Hong Kong government denied on Tuesday ongoing rumours that protesters had died while police cleared and arrested demonstrators at a subway station a week ago in a rare joint press conference with the police emergency services, and the city’s train operator. 

Rumours of police brutality and government incompetence – including conspiracy theories of cover-ups – have spread like wildfire among the public, a reflection of how little residents trust the authorities as the city grows ever divided. 

Human rights groups, however, have criticised the Hong Kong government’s response as too heavy-handed. 

Withdrawing the extradition proposal “cannot change the fact that the Hong Kong authorities have chosen to  suppress protests in a grossly unlawful way that has seriously damaged the people’s trust and sense of legitimacy of the government,” said Man-kei Tam, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong. 

“A thorough and independent investigation into unnecessary and excessive use of force by police at protests is now needed more than ever,” he said.

Additional reporting by Katy Wong

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