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Lord Michael Heseltine refused to condemn China after Beijing imposed a new national security law that many claim violates Hong Kong’s freedoms. The former senior Tory politician sparked a furious backlash for his remarks on the BBC Today Programme, as he urged Britain to “wait and see” and said there is “nothing we can do about it”. Boris Johnson took a strong line against China during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, offering up to three million Hong Kong residents the chance to settle in the UK and ultimately apply for citizenship.
The Prime Minister said Hong Kong’s freedoms were being violated by the new security law and those affected would be offered a “route” out of the former UK colony.
Under this scheme, about 350,000 UK passport holders, and 2.6 million others eligible, will be able to come to the UK for five years.
He condemned Tuesday’s passing of the law as a “clear and serious breach” of the 1985 Sino-British joint declaration.
This was a legally binding agreement which guaranteed that freedoms would be protected for the 50 years after China assumed sovereignty in 1997.
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In response to Mr Johnson’s offer, China has scolded the UK for “interfering” in Hong Kong’s affairs.
During the interview on the BBC this morning, Today host Justin Webb said: “You have wanted closer business links.
“Do you accept now that this is a repressive state that we can’t properly do business with?”
Lord Heseltine responded: “China is the emerging world power, there is nothing you can do to stop it.
“You have to find ways of living with it, while not supporting policies of which you disapprove.
“I’m deeply disappointed by what is happening in Hong Kong.
“I was a member of the cabinet committee in 1984 that negotiated the handover arrangements.”
Webb followed up: “Has the handover pact been breached now?
“I feel like the introduction of the law is intended to introduce domestic controls that would be unacceptable in the spirit and legality of the original agreement.
“But, let us wait and see. They are taking steps that may break it but on the other hand, China is not going away.”
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Listeners reacted furiously to the remarks, with many criticising that Mr Heseltine for “too much kowtowing” to China.
One person tweeted: “Lord Heseltine flailing and in discomfort on the BBC when asked whether China has breached the 1984 Hong Kong handover agreement which he played a role in. He can’t quite bring himself to say ‘yes’.”
Another added: “Heseltine wouldn’t even come out and condemn the Chinese over the new HK laws. Hedging to not offend them. It’s because of people like him China feel able to do this stuff.”
A human rights activist from Anti-Slavery International responded: “Lord Heseltine says China is the emerging world power and ‘there’s nothing we can do about it’. But of course, there is. The question is whether we and the global community are willing to weather the consequences.”
Lord Heseltine also drew ire on social media for blaming Brexit when he was questioned about how the coronavirus lockdown had led to an employment crisis in the UK.
One listener said: “Lord Heseltine made a lot of sense, talking about regenerating the economy; then destroyed his credibility by saying Brexit was equally to blame, with coronavirus.”
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