British passport holders living in Hong Kong will be able to apply for UK citizenship, Boris Johnson has said.
The PM said he stood by his commitment to help Hong Kong citizens living in the former British colony as their basic freedoms were being eroded.
He said they would be granted “limited leave to remain” in the UK “with the ability to live and work in the UK and thereafter to apply for citizenship”.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is updating MPs on the details.
Mr Raab has warned Beijing that eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy risks “violating” legal obligations entered into when it took control of the ex-UK colony in 1997.
China rejects criticism of its actions, on what it says are internal matters.
Hong Kong’s new national security law, which targets secession, subversion and terrorism with punishments up to life in prison, came into effect on Tuesday.
Critics say it effectively puts an end to the “one country, two systems” principle enshrined in the 1985 Joint Declaration, a legally binding agreement signed by the UK and China which protected certain freedoms in the territory for at least 50 years.
The UK government is under pressure to take a firm line with Beijing from MPs on all sides of the Commons, who are worried about China’s increasingly assertive role regionally and the security implications of Chinese firm Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network.
Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Raab said he would set out the UK’s next steps after government lawyers had studied the details of the national security legislation.
Mr Raab, who is making a statement to MPs, said China’s actions were “deeply troubling” and the UK would work with its G7 partners to put pressure on Beijing to think again.
There are 350,000 or so Hong Kong residents who are British National Overseas Passport holders, and 2.6 million others are also eligible.
At the moment, they are entitled to visa-free access to the UK for six months.
Labour said the government must “not waver” from its obligations to the people of Hong Kong and it expected the foreign secretary to lay out “concrete steps” to uphold the freedoms of those living there.
“The government promised action,” said shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy. “Now is not the moment to look away.”
On Wednesday, several people were arrested in Hong Kong, including a man carrying a pro-independence flag as police used pepper spray to disperse some protesters gathered to mark 23 years since British rule ended.
The annual pro-democracy march to mark the anniversary had been banned for the first time by authorities, who cited a bar on gatherings of more than 50 people because of Covid-19.