If China can, it won’t let Hong Kongers leave for the UK or Australia or any other country…
China would lose face if a large number of Hong Kongers left, and there would be thousands, perhaps tens of thousands. China can’t let the world see these voting against China with their feet, leaving Hong Kong!
It is better to keep dissidents under control or locked up than to let them be free in a western country to challenge China. Even if they remain free inside Hong Kong, they could be easily tracked down.
When those tens of thousands of Hong Kongers flee to another country, they take along with them their skills and expertise, and their savings.
No one in Westminster tonight would expect anything like that number will move here, to escape the increasingly fraught reality of life in Hong Kong. But the decision is important, and not just for those to whom the UK may now provide sanctuary.
It reflects immediate concern in the government about what has been happening on the streets in that packed, throbbing island.
But the decision was also fuelled by the legacy of British control there. This kind of citizenship was not offered, despite some calls to do so, at the time when Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997.
Remember that handover took place on the basis that its partial democracy and market economy would be respected. But that’s been eroded so visibly in recent years.
It was notable not one MP in the House of Commons spoke against the next phase of Britain and Hong Kong’s story being to offer a home to islanders here. Government’s decisions are still affected by choices made decades ago.
The decision also reflects a souring of the atmosphere around relations between the UK and China.
But the dilemma is more acute, not least because a group of Tory MPs, including some up and coming key figures on the backbenches, who have joined forces with some of the more traditional ‘awkward squad’ to oppose close links with China regularly and loudly.
Most prominently they have been concerned about whether the UK government should allow the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei a place in building the 5G phone network.
Several of those involved in trying to change the government’s minds are increasingly confident that Number 10 will soon find a way of rolling back the firm’s participation in the project.
As a group they have organised, and they have some strength in numbers, as a previous rebellion suggested.
The government’s promise to Hong Kongers comes at a junction in our immigration policy.
It was only yesterday that MPs backed the Immigration Bill that ends freedom of movement – the product of a referendum that was fought on the concept of controlling immigration which, for many voters meant getting the numbers down.
Isn’t it a contradiction therefore that the government has sent out this message to potentially several million to come to our shores?
A clash for many perhaps, depending how and when people from Hong Kong arrive here.
But for ministers, the decision is a testament of the principle that the UK out of the EU can make its own decisions about who arrives and who leaves.