After less than two months in office, British Prime Minister Liz Truss’ leadership came to an end on Tuesday. After the chaos of the mini-budget and Kwasi Kwarteng’s short-lived stint as chancellor of the exchequer — 38 days to be exact — Britain once again found itself embroiled in chaos on all fronts.
Politically speaking, Truss’ tenure as prime minister was the shortest ever in British history, 44 days in total, when she resigned following a period of turmoil triggered by a failed tax-cutting mini-budget.
Economically speaking, the outlook is absolutely grim. The mini-budget presented by Kwarteng in September has been widely blamed for causing the British pound to plummet to a 37-year low against the US dollar. Not only that, the mini-budget that promised the controversial debt-funded tax cuts brought to the economy the additional burden of surging mortgage rates and high government borrowing.
And socially speaking, life for the ordinary Briton is increasingly fraught with challenges.
Taking Kwarteng’s place is Jeremy Hunt, a veteran Conservative member of Parliament with a wealth of Cabinet experience. But even with his many years of experience behind him, it will be his luck as well as his experience that will be tested in his new position.
Hunt publicly warned that the government will be facing a “black hole” in the form of a budget deficit totaling 72 billion pounds ($81.4 billion) over the next five years. And while he had publicly avowed that Truss was very much “in charge”, not many commentators in the UK believed him.
The purpose of this column is not to disparage UK politics, but to draw attention to the swaths of Hong Kong people who have relocated to Britain — or are planning to.
The reason I prefer the term “relocate” over “emigrate” is the distinct lack of determination on the part of these people to stay after they obtain British citizenship. Most of these migrated Hong Kong residents have refused to hand back their Hong Kong identity cards.
Over 110,000 Hong Kong residents have been granted visas through the UK government’s BN(O) “5+1” scheme since it was launched in January last year. Through the scheme specifically designed for Hong Kong residents, BN(O) passport holders can not only live in Britain but work and study.
And if it sounds too good to be true, it has by now proved to be correct.
The scheme is subject to the “5+1 rule”. This means that for the first five years of continuous residence, those under the scheme are not eligible to receive benefits (barring certain financial circumstances).
After this continuous period of five years, applicants must then apply to settle in the UK to attain “indefinite leave to remain”. Then, after holding this immigration status for a period of a year, they can apply for citizenship.
But for every story of a Hong Kong family successfully settling in Britain, there are plenty of stories of those who have not fared so well. There are stories of professionals like medical doctors and accountants relocating to Britain but struggling to find the same jobs they held in Hong Kong.
There have also been news stories of racial discrimination and hate crimes against these Hong Kong people — some of which have even escalated to ugly violence. But then again, the crime rate in Britain has always been much higher than that of Hong Kong.
From 2021-22, the overall crime rate in the UK was 79.52 per 1,000 people; during the same period in Hong Kong, it was 8.71 per 1,000 people.
But even though a new life in the UK is not as rosy a picture as some have been led to believe, we have still lost over 110,000 talented Hong Kong residents and their assets to a nation that shows little appreciation for the economic benefits they have brought to their deteriorating island nation.
President Xi Jinping and the 20th Party Congress have charted a course for China’s future prosperity that will endure for many generations, and he has the strength of the Party behind him that is unified by this singular vision.
The “Chinese Dream” and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation are ones that will ensure the security of the nation’s future, as well as its people — and naturally, this includes the people of Hong Kong.
In stark contrast, Britain — a nation that touts itself as one of the leading democracies in the world — has an unelected leader and mutinous members of Parliament at its helm.
For those who may not be familiar with British politics, Truss did not become prime minister by way of a general election. Her predecessor, Boris Johnson, stepped down as prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party in July this year after a series of scandals that became too much for Johnson and his Cabinet to bear. As a result, a new party leader — and prime minister in this case, as the Conservatives were still in power — was elected by 180,000 Conservative Party members across the country.
As a matter of perspective, I must point out that there are over 67 million people in the UK; this means that Conservative Party membership accounts for only a mere 0.27 percent of the UK’s population.
In the wake of Johnson’s resignation, candidates for the new Conservative leader and prime minister were selected by the ever-secretive 1922 Committee, a political cabal comprising a small group of Conservative backbench MPs who convene with the prime minister once a month. This was the same group that triggered the vote of “no confidence” against Johnson in June this year. The committee also established the rules and timetables for the party leadership race. To put it bluntly, Britain’s current prime minister was selected by the internal horse-trading and maneuvering of a select and secretive few.
And to put this into greater perspective, Truss won the party leadership contest by 81,326 votes. This is considerably less than the 137,550 popular votes cast for Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee when she ran against Anson Chan Fang On-sang in the Hong Kong Island by-election in 2007.
I am not too surprised that Truss has joined her former colleague Kwarteng with an almost-equally short tenure in power.
And for those Hong Kong people who have begun to call Britain their new home, I can only remind them not to burn their bridges with Hong Kong. It’s definitely wise, although a bit too mercenary, to keep their Hong Kong identity cards.
The author is president of the Wisdom Hong Kong think tank.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.