UK officials discussed the idea of relocating Hong Kong’s entire population to Northern Ireland in 1983 amid handover talks with China, recently declassified documents have revealed.

sino-british talk over hk
Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and then-UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher discuss Hong Kong’s future. Photo: Xinhua.

A sociology lecturer at Reading University, Christie Davies, first raised the idea of creating a city state for Hong Kong’s then 5.5 million residents in Northern Ireland, according to a Guardian report. Davies believed that the British colony would have “no political future” under Chinese rule.

The idea was apparently taken seriously by a civil servant in Northern Ireland called George Fergusson, who then proposed it to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

HK N Ireland
How Hong Kong’s flag might have changed after move to N Ireland. Photo: HKFP.

The BBC has reported, however, that one of the officials that engaged in discussions over the plan said it was no more than a joke.

David Snoxell, a former official in the FCO’s Republic of Ireland Department, said the exchanges he had with Fergusson were “a spoof between colleagues who had a sense of humour.” Furthermore, there is no evidence that these discussions ever reached the ministerial level in London.

In 1983, the UK and Chinese government began official negotiations over Hong Kong’s future. The British side proposed to give China sovereignty over Hong Kong in exchange for the right of administration, which the Chinese government refused. The Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed in 1984, decreeing that Hong Kong would be retroceded to China after 155 years as a British colony.

hkfp logo hong kong free press

Vivienne Zeng

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.