A new poll from Savanta ComRes shows that there is significant support among the public for the government’s proposal to offer Hong Kongers that hold British National Overseas (BNO) Passports and their dependents a bespoke five-year visa, with the pathway to later apply for full UK citizenship.
The UK’s offer to Hong Kongers is seen as compatible by half of Brits with the government’s vision for Global Britain (48%)
Over two in five Brits (42%) express support for the government having made this offer, with just one in four (25%) expressing any opposition. Support for this offer is higher among those Brits who say they are familiar with recent events in Hong Kong, with half (50%) expressing outright support.
Not since 1997 and the handover of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China has the UK ever been involved in such a heated clash over the territory’s future. Beijing’s introduction of the new National Security Law last week has drawn widespread condemnation and criticism as an affront to Hong Kong’s special ‘one country, two systems’ status.
While the UK government has vowed to make good on its promise of a five-year residency to BNO-status Hong Kongers, with an eye to gaining full citizenship, the public are not averse to the government going further. In fact, when Brits are faced with a range of hypothetical resettlement schemes, the government’s offer received only slightly higher levels of support than offering BNOs and their dependents full UK citizenship, circumventing the 5 years of residency qualification.
It seems apparent that this offer will form part of a wider shift in UK foreign policy towards China, as distrust settles in among both country’s political leaderships. The government’s offer, potentially welcoming 3 million Hong Kongers to Britain, is seen by the public to be compatible with many of the government’s foreign and domestic policy goals.
The UK’s offer to Hong Kongers is seen as compatible by half of Brits with the government’s vision for Global Britain (48%), its commitments to prioritising skilled and talented migration (47%) and helping the UK economy post-Covid (45%).
In addition, it is overall perceived to be more compatible than incompatible with improving the lives of ordinary British people (43% vs 38%), the vote to leave the EU (42% vs 36%) and the commitment take back control of our own borders (44% vs 40%). It appears that there are a number of the government’s key policy objectives that the UK’s current offer to Hong Kongers is perceived to compliment.
The UK’s offer to BNOs looks to be one of the first steps of a wider recalibration in the UK’s approach to China. Prominent voices from all parts of the political spectrum are pushing for a re-think on the UK’s recent accommodating approach.
The Covid pandemic has prompted many parliamentarians and other experts to ramp up their questioning regarding the UK’s relationship with China, from our reliance on the Huawei network to our implicit tolerance of the treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
The British public seemingly reflect this shift in narrative, with a strong and overwhelming desire for a more distant relationship with China across a range of issues. On sector-specific issues such as telecommunications, over two in five Brits (44%) desire a more distant relationship with China; important for the government to consider as it re-evaluates its decision to incorporate Huawei as a central partner in its 5G national infrastructure.
It is clear that, should the UK follow through with its recent commitments to BNOs and their dependents in Hong Kong, they would be doing so with substantial support among the British public, who see the proposal as in keeping with the UK’s vision for itself as a country with a strong, global outlook.
In fact, support is strong enough that there is a healthy appetite for the offer to go further and to offer all BNOs full citizenship on arrival in the UK. This welcoming embrace to the people of Hong Kong is supplemented by a weariness of the UK’s relationship with China where, on topics such as trade, energy and telecommunications, public desire is to transition into a more hands-off relationship.
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