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How Brexit diminishes the rights of British Nationals overseas

May 23, 2019 1:42 AM

I was in Hong Kong in March, and most of my friends had asked me the same question: How's the progress with BN(O) equal rights movement and how did Brexit affect it?

So what is BN(O)? It stands for British National (Overseas). According to the Home Office website, it means 'Someone who was a British overseas territories citizen by connection with Hong Kong was able to register as a BN(O) before 1 July 1997.' They are not granted Right of Abode anywhere, including the UK and HK.

The strict terms of BN(O) made most think that it is a travel document, but it is more than that, such as:

  1. They are eligible to join Her Majesty's Civil Service, and are eligible to vote if they have lived in the UK for more than six months;
  2. may become British citizens by registration after residing in the UK for more than five years and possessing ILR for more than one year;
  3. would not be subjected to the annual quota of 1000 people if they wanted to apply to stay in UK under the working holiday scheme;
  4. their status is for life and is not be lost in case of Dual or Multiple Nationality, though their siblings cannot inherit the status.

According to the official figures, currently there are more than 800,000 BN(O) holders. Although the numbers are dwindling, they have no intention to withdraw it, and still use the passport to travel overseas.

Our former leader Lord Paddy Ashdown campaigned for giving BN(O) holders the right of abode since years ago. There was also a seminar organised by the House of Lord with various campaign groups to call for the extension of BN(O) rights in March this year.

The goal of the campaign groups is to fight for extending their rights. In a radio interview, Choy Ki, one of the representatives of BN(O) Association, mentioned, 'BN(O) is not only a travel document, but a national identity with a lot of rights under the jurisdiction of the UK.'

The current political spectrum, however, has complicated the issue. For BN(O) holders, Brexit means our visa free travelling status to our EU neighbours could no longer be available. This is important because EU member states offered visa free travel for the HK passport holders, and most BN(O) holders are eligible to obtain one.

To HK citizens, BN(O) represents our country as an open and multi-cultural society, and our reputation as a liberal democracy today. The populist sentiment of Brexit referendum and the aftermath has weakened the face value of the BN(O). In case Brexit happens, it is the BN(O) holders who will suffer from the consequences.

Stopping Brexit can prevent further damages to the face value of the BN(O), and maintain the reputation of UK as a country to welcome BN(O) holders to contribute and be a part of our society.

For further information, one of the campaigning organisations, Hong Kong Watch, provides regular updates on their website.

* Larry Ngan is Brexit spokesperson of Chinese Liberal Democrats