One of the stories that managed to sink to the bottom of the news cycle this weekend was Downing Street hinting that the UK could be open to taking in Hong Kongers on a similar basis to the way the UK welcomed ethnic Indians fleeing Idi Amin’s Uganda. This is not only the right decision politically by the UK Government, but also the moral one.
For context there are two short stories that need to be told. The first is the precedent for such a move. In 1972 Idi Amin, the President of Uganda by way of a military coup, ordered the expulsion of the Asian minority living within the country. Under colonial rule thousands of Indians moved to Uganda to support the administration and establishment of new railways. Most of them would go on to settle in the country, set up small businesses and thrive. Amin, tapping into a wave of populist xenophobia, claimed that their success was on the back of African failure and he continued his predecessor’s policy of ‘Africanisation’ of industry.
The result was an order for all Asians to leave the country within 90 days or face being put into military detainment camps. At the time there were some 80,000 Ugandan Indians living in the country, 23,000 of whom had naturalised citizenship. Many of these Ugandan Indians were classified as British nationals under UK law and had the right to diplomatic protection from the UK. As a result – 27,000 Ugandan Indians sought refuge in the UK, with a further 6,000 going to Canada. The UK government offered them temporary housing in disused military bases, whilst they looked for work and for accommodation across the country.
The second story is that of the handover of Hong Kong to China. As the 100-year lease on the land around Hong Kong came to an end – the British government negotiated with Communist China on what sort of future the chain of islands that made up the territory would have. In December 1984, the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed, sealing the fate of the former colony and its denizens. However, that was not before the UK government had managed to make agreements to give Hong Kongers a new category of British Nationality – British National (Overseas) or BNO. There are currently 2.9 million of these BNOs living in Hong Kong today and they are as British as anyone else.
The handover took place on 1 July 1997 and Hong Kong went from being a British Overseas Territory to becoming a ‘Semi-Autonomous Region’ of China. And since then that autonomy has slowly been eroded – most recently with new ‘National Security Laws’ that seem to be entirely aimed at the Hong Kongers and Uighurs who are currently fighting for their freedom.
In case you haven’t put the two stories together – there is a clear case to be made that the UK should open its arms and welcome many of those in Hong Kong who are currently fighting for freedom and risk being sent to jail under these news laws for the crime of speaking their mind. Hong Kongers are not like anyone else; they are people who the British government failed in the past when the UK put too much trust in Communist China to follow the rules. It is time to correct that wrong, not because it is politically shrewd or for any economic gain, but because it is the morally correct thing to do.
And as conservatives this government has even more of a responsibility to do so. Conservatives have always been at the forefront of the fight for freedom and have opened their hearts to those fleeing persecution. During the Second World War, London played host to no less that twelve governments in exile. During the Cold War Britain took in freedom fighters fleeing from Communist oppression in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan repeatedly talked of the responsibility for conservatives to support pro-democracy movements across the world and this is no different.
But it goes further than that. By welcoming these pro-democracy advocates the UK and West would be sending a clear message to democrats the world over that we still stand by you. That we still hold with the ideals of conservatives that came before us, that the ultimate goal is the spread of democracy and free society the world over.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same…”
When US President Ronald Reagan said this in 1987 the world was still in the grips of the Cold War. Half of the world lived under the boot of authoritarian Communism and were struggling for freedom. By the end of his time in office the world was starting to open up and communism was starting to collapse. Today, we must be as committed to our values around the world as we were then. Because even today our freedom is still at risk.