UK to suspend extradition agreement with Hong Kong ‘immediately and indefinitely’

20 July 2020, 15:40

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The UK will suspend its extradition agreement with Hong Kong amid fears over the new China-imposed security law, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has announced.

The Cabinet minister was addressing MPs in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, following calls for Britain's extradition agreement with the former British colony to be suspended.

Ever since China imposed its controversial new security law on the region there have been concerns over what would happen if Hong Kongers, who are suspected of a crime in Britain, were sent back to their home country to face justice.

The UK has since offered residency rights to three million Hong Kong citizens in response to the law - which introduces new crimes and more severe penalties - in a move branded "brutal meddling" by China.

However, during Mr Raab's update to Parliament, he confirmed to MPs that the UK's extradition agreement with Hong Kong will be suspended "immediately and indefinitely," which he described as "necessary and proportionate."

The foreign secretary also announced that an arms embargo on China - in place since 1989 - will be extended to Hong Kong.

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Dominic Raab was speaking in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon
Dominic Raab was speaking in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon. Picture: PA

Mr Raab said that although the UK wants "to work with China" it will "always protect" its vital interests, while also expressing his "grave concern" about the "gross human rights abuses" taking place in the country's Xinjiang region.

"We have been clear regarding the new national security law which China has imposed on the people of Hong Kong - a clear and serious violation of the UK-China Joint Declaration and with it, a violation of China's freely assumed international obligations," he said.

The foreign secretary added: "The Government has decided to suspend the extradition treaty immediately and indefinitely, and I should also tell the House that we would not consider reactivating those arrangements unless and until there are clear and robust safeguards which are able to prevent extradition from the UK being misused under the new national security legislation."

Speaking about the arms embargo, he told MPs: "Given the role China has now assumed for the internal security of Hong Kong and the authority it's exerting over law enforcement, the UK will extend to Hong Kong the arms embargo that we've applied to mainland China since 1989.

"To be clear, the extension of this embargo will mean there will be no exports from the UK to Hong Kong of potentially lethal weapons, their components or ammunition and it will also mean a ban on the export of any equipment not already banned which might be used for internal repression such as shackles, intercept equipment, firearms and smoke grenades."

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Beijing had previously insisted it remains committed to upholding international law and promised a "resolute response" in the event that Britain suspends extradition arrangements.

Speaking yesterday, he warned it wouldn't be "business as usual" with China after a review into the arrangement was completed.

He said: "We're going to follow the UK national interest and we're going to work with our partners, try and work with China on the things where we can really accentuate the positives, but be very clear-sighted and clear-eyed about the risks."

The extradition treaty - which has existed for more than 30 years - currently means that a Hong Kong citizen suspected of a crime in the UK can be, on the request of British authorities, handed over to Hong Kong to face justice. The deal also works in the opposite direction for British citizens suspected of crimes in Hong Kong.

However, with the new Beijing-imposed security law - which makes acts of subversion punishable by life sentences - any suspected criminal sent back to Hong Kong from the UK could be sent to China, where it is feared human rights standards are not upheld.

Mr Raab previously accused China of "gross, egregious human rights abuses" against the country's Uighur population in the Xinjiang province after drone footage emerged showing police leading hundreds of blindfolded and shackled men from a train in what is believed to be a transfer of inmates Xinjiang.

19 other countries have an extradition treaty in place with Hong Kong, including Canada and Australia which have both already suspended theirs in light of the new security law.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier described having "concerns" over the new law and said the UK had to think about the rights of people in Hong Kong to participate in democratic processes.

But, he added: "There is a balance here. I'm not going to be pushed into a position of becoming a knee-jerk Sinophobe on every issue, somebody who is automatically anti-China.

"We've got to have a calibrated approach. We're going to be tough on some things, but we're going to continue to engage."

Responding to Mr Raab's comments, Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said it was vital the world shows a "co-ordinated front" in its dealings with Beijing, while calling on a "new era" in Britain's relationship with China.

Ms Nandy said: "This must mark the start of a more strategic approach to China based on an ethical approach to foreign policy and an end to the naivety of the 'golden-era years'.

"And if it does, he can be assured that he will have our full support on this side of the House.

"Like him, our quarrel is not with the people of China, but the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong, the actions of the Chinese government in the South China Sea and the appalling treatment of the Uighur people is reason now to act.

"We will not be able to say in future years that we did not know and I urge him to work with colleagues across Government to ensure that this marks the start of a strategic approach to China and the start of a new era."