Dominic Raab's offer to Hongkongers is right - now he needs to prevent a repeat

The Foreign Secretary's big test will be to avoid having to make a similarly generous offer to another country in ten years' time.

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Dominic Raab has unveiled a big and comprehensive offer of citizenship to British overseas nationals in Hong Kong after the passage of the Chinese government’s new security bill into law, allowing all 2.5m British overseas nationals in Hong Kong and their dependents to resettle in the United Kingdom.

It offers a good and sensible path to citizenship that ought to be rolled out to other British overseas nationals living in repressive regimes. But it doesn’t feature a direct path to citizenship for Hong Kongers born after the handover to Chinese rule in 1997: and it is people under 23 who form the block of Hong Kong’s protest movement.

That needn’t be a problem: there is an open-and-shut case that if you are protesting the passage of the security law in Hong Kong you face a credible and serious risk of repression and therefore you should be able to move to another country as a refugee under existing British and international law. Successive British governments have not only tried to wriggle out of these commitments but have implemented them in a pointlessly destructive way – refugees going through the asylum system cannot work, which means the areas that they are waiting rapidly become economically straitened ghost towns. Giving people the right to seek and do work while they seek refuge is win-win. But it’s better, and probably easier, to fix that loophole for all political refugees, that to have a specific Hong Kong only solution.

Raab’s next task to make sure that in ten years time, his successor isn’t making a similar offer to countries. As well as looking again at the government’s position on Huawei, a wider rethink of the government’s China policy is surely required.  

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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