THE UK Government must act to secure the futures of British overseas territories in the wake of ongoing concerns about former colony Hong Kong, a Tory MP has said.
Last week, speaking in response to a controversial security law for Hong Kong which critics fear will strip the territory of its autonomy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK was ready to upgrade the status of British National (Overseas) passports to grant immigration rights beyond the current six-month limit. However, Weston-super-mare MP John Penrose urged the Government not to overlook the rights of the 14 British overseas territories around the world, including Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and Bermuda.
The situation in Hong Kong remains extremely tense, with more clashes between pro-democracy demonstrators and the security forces in recent weeks.
Mr Penrose said: “What’s happening in Hong Kong shows that problems can flare up unexpectedly anywhere in the world.
“If it can happen in Hong Kong today, it could happen in our Oversea Territories tomorrow too.
“If we decide to give Hong Kong residents more rights to live and work in the UK, when Hong Kong has been separate from the UK for decades, what about our Overseas Territories where the constitutional and political ties are still so much stronger and closer too?
“Surely we wouldn’t give them less than Hong Kong in its hour of need?”
Mr Penrose suggested the “simplest, strongest way” to keep Overseas Territories safe was to make it clear they were just as much a part of the UK as Wales, England, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
He said: “If they need help with a pandemic, a hurricane or a spat with a passing foreign warship, it would mean that everyone knows where they stand.
“There would be no questions or uncertainty, and the risks of a dangerous misunderstanding with a bigger neighbour would be much lower too.”
Mr Penrose said offering Overseas Territories the chance to become full and equal members of the UK, with the same kind of tailored devolution settlements as Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, and with elected MPs in Westminster, would put an end to all the speculation and uncertainty about their future.
He added: “It would make them fully-fledged and equal parts of the United Kingdom, no matter what tomorrow brings.
“If we want post-Brexit Britain to be a modern, free-trading, global citizen then the Overseas Territories ought to be an exciting and equal part of that future.”
Mr Johnson’s proposal prompted Chen Wen, Minister and First Staff Member of the Chinese Embassy in the UK, to issue a warning during an interview with BBC Radio 4’s World At One on Friday.
Any changes to the British National (Overseas) status of Hong Kong citizens will be breaking commitments made by the UK at the time of the handover, she said.
She added: “Let’s wait and see, there will be consequences, that’s for sure.”
However, Ms Chen insisted her comments were not a “threat”.
She added: “Changing the status quo of BNO itself is a threat.
“I’m not threatening anything.
“This is not correct decision and it will be damaging to Hong Kong’s stability and it will be damaging to the UK’s own image of abiding by its own commitments, it will be damaging to bilateral relationship.”