“We believe the UK continues to have a moral and legal obligation to the people of Hong Kong,” the former foreign secretaries, including Mr Raab’s immediate predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, said in a letter sent to Downing Street on Friday. “As events in Hong Kong develop over the weeks ahead, we hope you will recognise the pronounced need for international leadership from the UK government on this matter and act accordingly.”
The signatories, completed by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Dame Margaret Beckett, Lord Hague of Richmond, David Miliband, Lord Owen and Jack Straw, called for the formation of an international “contact group” like the one established for the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. They asked Mr Johnson to raise the plight of Hong Kong at the recently postponed G7 summit, to be hosted by President Trump, and to seek support from the Commonwealth and the European Union.
Britain expressed “deep concern” over the plan for the new security law in a joint statement with Australia, Canada and the US. The governments warned that it would undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy from China under the “one country, two systems” principle that was agreed before the handover of the former British colony in 1997.
Mr Straw said that widening the pool of concerned countries would make it hard for China to dismiss outside pressure “as basically a British Empire issue”. Sir Malcolm said he expected the idea to gain ground among China’s neighbours in Asia, who are increasingly alarmed by its aggressive behaviour.
Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, told Sky News that Beijing had proved that Britain’s relationship with China needed to be re-examined. “This is more than about Hong Kong, it is about all of us dealing with an authoritarian state which has decided to tear up the rules,” he said.
Mr Raab set Britain on a collision course with Beijing when he announced last week that he would “set in train” new arrangements for 350,000 Hong Kong holders of British National Overseas passports to secure citizenship if China did not change course.
The Home Office clarified that the pledge could apply to an additional 2.6 million people who are eligible for such a passport, most of whom have previously held the document but not renewed it. New applications are not permitted.
At present the passport holders can travel to Britain for six months but do not have the right to live and work in the UK. Mr Raab’s idea is to allow them to apply to work and study for extendable periods of one year, thus providing “a pathway to future citizenship”.