Hong Kong’s leader said on Tuesday that Britain had breached an agreement with China by expanding immigration rights for Hongkongers holding British National (Overseas) passports, and it would be a “matter of course” for the other party to retaliate.

But Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she was not aware of any specific plans to do so.

Her comments came after lawmaker and Executive Councillor Regina Ip suggested that the Hong Kong government adopt China’s nationality law, which would ban dual nationality.

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a press conference on Tuesday. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“The issue of nationality is a sensitive matter, and many citizens were concerned about the discussion before the [1997] handover,” Lam told a press conference. “That’s why, because of historical reasons, the Chinese and British governments had a consensus on how to handle the British National (Overseas) passport.”

“If someone has now unilaterally deviated from the consensus, it would be a matter of course for the other party to take some action.”

Lam added that her government had not proposed any measures regarding the issue of BN(O) passports, which until recently did not allow holders the automatic right of abode in Britain.

Ip wrote in a column for the South China Morning Post on Sunday that it might be time for the Chinese government to stop allowing Hong Kong people to hold dual nationality.

uk british flag consulate
A protester showed her British passport. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

“The new route to citizenship offered by the British government is not only a slap in the face of the Chinese authorities for enacting a national security law, but also fraught with adverse implications,” she wrote.

Ip told Commercial Radio on Tuesday that it was time for would-be emigrants to choose. “It’s obvious that they don’t want to be Chinese if they would endure six years of ’emigration prison’,” she said, referring to the time it will take to acquire full British citizenship.

She added that since Taiwan is a part of China, people who emigrated there should not be included in such requirements.

Regina Ip budget 2020
Regina Ip of New People’s Party. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Following China’s imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong last June, Britain announced plans to expand visa rights for hundreds of thousands of people eligible for BN (O) passports. From January 31, holders can apply for a special visa to stay in the UK to work or study for five years before being allowed to apply for settled status.

After their sixth year they can apply for British citizenship.

Following the UK government’s announcement last July, Beijing threatened to cease recognising the BN(O) passport as a valid travel document, and said it reserved the right to take further action. The Hong Kong government said it would “fully cooperate” with Beijing.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.