"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
"Depending on which figure you believe, that's a possible 2.9 to 3.4 million Hong Kong folks heading to the UK"
As the fallout from Beijing seizing the initiative to enact Article 23 rumbles on, the UK is moving to open the door to British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders. Or that's what it purports to be doing. In truth, the picture is far murkier. A bit of background — until 1981, the Hong Kong people enjoyed the right of abode in the UK. Then, in a preemptive move, the Thatcher-led UK government removed that right before starting talks with China on the 1997 handover. In the process, the UK cut off the Hong Kong people and threw away a significant bargaining chip.
Now in the throes of self-flagellation over its moral obligations, the UK is proposing a 'pathway' to citizenship. Yet, the details of that 'pathway' are unclear, while a few boulders have already landed to make progress difficult. Not least of which is no one has consulted the British public. In fairness, people are rather busy with the Covid-19 travel habits of Dominic Cummings. It's the only story at the moment and a useful distraction.
Initial reports suggested the Brits would allow in 300,000 Hong Kong people. That's not an unsubstantial number. This figure struck me as odd because, with some 3.4 million BNOs issued, it appeared a massive under-estimate. My suspicions proved correct because the vast majority of citizens didn't renew their BNOs, opting for the cheaper Hong Kong passport. People can't resist a bargain. Currently, an estimated 300,00 BNOs are in use, hence the initial figure. We don't have much detail of the 'pathway' beyond the UK proposing the current six-month visa-free access extended to 12 months.
But here's the rub. The UK Home Office has confirmed that all those born before 1997 in Hong Kong keep the right to a BNO and de-facto are eligible to hop on a now very crowded 'pathway' leading to Britain. Depending on which figure you believe, that's a possible 2.9 to 3.4 million Hong Kong folks heading to the UK. For reference, the population of Birmingham is 2.4 million. Note that the young hooligans rioting on our streets born after 1997 don't get a BNO.
You can see already that this arrangement is smelling fishy. Eventually, the penny will drop that millions heading off to the UK won't endear the Boris Johnson's government to the electorate. Neither is China well-pleased.
I will venture a prediction: Any scheme the UK offers will come capped either by stealth or bureaucratic processes. Of course, the UK will seek to cherry-pick who gets in; the doctors, nurses and other needed specialists will get a welcome, but the number will be limited.
While allowing in a million or so hard-working entrepreneurs from Hong Kong would boost the British economy, there is a tribal dimension here. In general, the British Chinese citizens enjoy an excellent reputation as industrious folks operating below the radar. As a group, they do not attract the sort of animus that falls on other ethnic minorities.
But the question must be asked, in Brexit Britain would the arrival of millions of Chinese change that sentiment? My guess is yes, especially amongst those communities blighted with unemployment and social deprivation. Never forget that the Labour Party faced a rebellion amongst its core working-class vote due to immigration issues. Politicians of all hues recognise that factor. Covid-19 hasn't helped matters.
On the other side, what's the likely impact on Hong Kong? Well, if millions left, the place would suffer. Yet, as I said, that's extremely unlikely. Plus, Hong Kong has brushed off high levels of migration in the past with no visible consequences. In 1989 after Tiananmen, people moved out. The same happened before 1997. In all this, the UK was never the favoured destination, as Canada and the US topped the list. Often overlooked is that a fair percentage quietly returned to Hong Kong, having realised living as a 'second-class' citizen in a foreign land isn't for them.
Reflecting on the cack-handling of the Covid-19 outbreak in the US and the UK, I'd question whether I'd put my faith in either place. Add to that under-funded public services, rampant crime, high tax-rates and police who don't respond to calls. Suddenly the UK isn't looking that attractive.
Will there be any takers? I'm sure some will take up the offer, but as I said, no doubt the scheme will face moderation by UK domestic interests. Because once the British public learns that millions of Hong Kong people could be coming, watch the reaction.
Plus, don't forget those pushing this matter do not represent the majority in the UK. The unholy trinity of Lord Patten, Lord Alton and Benedict (God speaks to me) Rogers come from a cohort that is the old-school establishment. And while Patten enjoys some star status in Hong Kong, in the UK he is a marginalised figure after his involvement in various scandals.
The Jimmy Savile case bashed his reputation. Being a patron of St Benedict's Catholic Private School in Ealing, London, a place plagued by child abuse scandals for decades didn't help matters. Then there is his work for accused sex offender Cardinal Pell. The Australian courts judged Pell not guilty, although the odour of something hangs in the air.
Thus, as the UK garners headlines to give the impression of acting on its obligations, reality will soon bite. Rest assured once the details emerge of the 'pathway', MPs will lobby in the background to limit the numbers allowed in. Having dangled the carrot, we can expect the UK to use 'process' to fend off the majority. Lastly, who recalls Chris Patten pushing hard for full British citizenship for the Hong Kong people before 1997?
No one, because he didn't.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.