Hong Kong 2.0 'should be built on British Isles', says think tank director

2 July 2020, 01:42 | Updated: 2 July 2020, 01:48

A think tank director has suggested building a second Hong Kong in the UK
A think tank director has suggested building a second Hong Kong in the UK. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The UK should build a Hong Kong 2.0 "on the shores of the British Isles", a think tank director has told LBC.

Sam Bowman, Director of Competition Policy at the International Center for Law and Economics, explained the idea to LBC's Tom Swarbrick on Wednesday.

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he will introduce a new route for Hong Kong residents with the correct status to enter the UK following the introduction of a controversial new security law imposed by China.

The Chinese legislation would allow authorities to crack down on subversive and secessionist activity in Hong Kong, a move which has strained relations with Britain and the US.

It moved the Foreign Office to summon the Chinese ambassador to highlight the UK's "deep concern" over the new security law

But, Mr Bowman said a charter city, Hong Kong 2.0, should be set up on Britain's shores for "Hong Kongers and Brits who want to move there."

A charter city, he explained, is a new city set up on an empty piece of land with a charter that maps out a set of rules and regulations designed to help growth.

Sam Bowman explained the Hong Kong 2.0 idea to LBC's Tom Swarbrick
Sam Bowman explained the Hong Kong 2.0 idea to LBC's Tom Swarbrick. Picture: LinkedIn

He said Hong Kong was not initially set up as a charter city, but instead the British effectively turned an empty fishing village into a sprawling metropolis with property rights, governance and rule of law which brought people in from all over the region.

Mr Bowman then suggested the country does the same thing again today to give the people who are living in Hong Kong now somewhere else to live.

"What is really exciting about the Hong Kong 2.0 idea is that we don't really build things on this scale anymore in the UK," he said.

"It's taken us years to get another runway at Heathrow or HS2, and these are just small things."

He added: "I think people are really hungry for something new and big and something to work towards as a nation and I think Hong Kong 2.0 could be that."

When asked whether anybody in power was seriously considering the idea, Mr Bowman said there has been "quite a lot of interest" but he is unable to name those who have approached him.

He said: "I've had a couple of MPs from across the political spectrum and a couple of Members of the House of Lords from across the political spectrum reach out to me.

"I've had a lot of interest from people in Hong Kong, both people who are very concerned about the way things are going and are worried that their way of life is going to be really not possible in the very near future, and from people who are interested in building something new."

Mr Swarbrick asked whether the idea would lead to the establishment of a deregulated city on the UK's shores, but Mr Bowman insisted he did not want to create somewhere for companies to dodge tax responsibilities.

"I don't want this to be a tax haven; I don't want this to be a way of companies dodging their responsibilities," he said.

"But what we do have to recognise is that lots of the regulations that we have in the UK around building, and building up new houses, new office spaces, or whatever it might be, are barriers to the sort of thing we need to do here."

He added: "This could be a free port where goods can come in and out without taxes and with minimal checks, just to make sure they're safe."

When asked where it would go, he cited Hong Kong's "surprisingly small" size and said that a region that is six-miles-by-six-miles square would be appropriate.

"If you could find a place around the country that is empty or almost empty and buy out the people who are living there and give them a few million pounds each and make sure it's voluntary.

"There are actually loads of places all over the country that are surprisingly empty; Lincolnshire is one, the Thames Estuary, Anglesey, Cornwall, or we could go with one of the garden cities where the government has already said it wants to build, for example in Ebbsfleet, where we already have a garden city that is trying to get off the ground.

"The money, the people and the talent that would come with a Hong Kong 2.0 could be a real shot in the arm for one of these new cities.

"It's really important that we don't impose this on anyone, that it's voluntary and everybody who chooses to go there is opting in, rather than having it put on them, but I think there are loads of places all over the country where we could do that."