A stand-up petition at the Legislative Council by the pro-democracy camp has failed after the legislature passed changes to its house rules.

At the first general meeting of the new year, 21 lawmakers stood up to support a petition to further discuss the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link at the House Committee. It would have passed if the rules were not changed last month, but the petition failed on Wednesday as the new minimum requirement for successful petitions was 35 lawmakers.

Pro-democracy camp convener Charles Mok said the intention of the petition was not to condemn anyone but only to express a wish to communicate with the government about the arrangement’s legal issues. The lawmakers left the chamber in protest when it was rejected.

Under the joint checkpoint arrangement, Hong Kong will effectively surrender its jurisdiction across a quarter of the new Express Rail terminus, where immigration procedures will be performed by mainland law enforcement agents when it opens next year. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress last month approved the plan following a unanimous vote and months of controversy.

The lawmakers’ petition said the Standing Committee, when making the decision, did not consider the strong criticism from the Hong Kong Bar Association that came after. They said the Legislative Council should have deeper discussions so it can truly reflect public opinion.

“We understand Hong Kong’s important role under the country’s ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative – our rule of law is very important,” Mok said.

“Pro-Beijing camp lawmakers told us that if our petitions are reasonable, they will support them – but you can see that it did not happen,” he added. “We regret that the pro-Beijing camp ignored this issue and just sat there.”

Transport secretary Frank Chan said on Tuesday that the joint checkpoint bill may be presented to the legislature as early as the end of this month.

Banner opposing the joint checkpoint plan at the Jan 1 rally. Photo: Ellie Ng/HKFP.

Lawmaker Tanya Chan said the move was irresponsible: “It is equal to forcing lawmakers to review a bill which may be unconstitutional.” She urged Chief Executive Carrie Lam to explain the legal basis for the bill.

Pro-Beijing engineering sector lawmaker Lo Wai-kwok said the petition was unnecessary as there will be time for discussion when the bill is presented.

“We are not saying there should not be any discussion over the joint checkpoint, but we do not agree with using the petition to create another political show,” he said.

Asked about the legal rationale for the arrangement, he said: “We cannot reject the constitutional status and authority of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.”

He said the arrangement was raised by Hong Kong authorities before seeking approval from Beijing: “Will it affect the high degree of autonomy in Hong Kong and the ‘Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong’ principle? I don’t see how this weird conclusion can be reached.”

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.