Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Hong Kong: British National (Overseas) Citizenship

A number of constituents have contacted me about the recent petition calling for those with British National (Overseas) passports to be granted full British citizenship.

I understand that individuals who were British Overseas Territories citizens by connection with Hong Kong were able to register as a BN(O) before 1 July 1997. 

In recognition of the fact that those with BN(O) status were at a disadvantage compared to those with other British nationalities, the then Government changed the law in 2009 to allow BN(O)s without another citizenship or nationality to apply to register as a British citizen under section 4B of the British Nationality Act 1981. Those with BN(O) status can also register as a British citizen if they have lived in the UK for five years and meet the residence requirements.

To grant all BN(O)s British citizenship would require a change in the law and the Government has said it has no plans to do so.

The Government has noted that the 2007 Review of Citizenship by Lord Goldsmith recognised that to automatically give BN(O)s full British citizenship would be a breach of the commitments made between China and the UK in the 1984 Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong.

The relationship between the people of the UK and the people of Hong Kong is built not only on the foundations of our history but on shared principles. The UK has a moral and a legal obligation to the people of Hong Kong and I therefore understand why the matter of British citizenship has been raised.

I am very concerned by the situation in Hong Kong and the erosion of compliance with the Joint Declaration that we have seen over recent years. The recent protests have rightly prompted serious reflection on the condition of democracy in Hong Kong more widely, and on the increasing crackdown on dissent and protest.

Unfortunately, I believe the UK Government has been too quiet on this issue and I think it should reassert to the Chinese Government its commitment to upholding the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong citizens that were guaranteed in the Joint Declaration. I hope the Prime Minister will also speak up and stand firm in defence of the Joint Declaration.


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