The UK is prepared to offer visas to almost 3 million Hong Kong citizens, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in an article he wrote for The Times on Wednesday.

Johnson said if China passed its proposed security law, “Britain would have no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong.”

“Today about 350,000 people hold British Nationals (Overseas) passports and another 2.5 million people would be eligible to apply for them. At present these passports allow for visa free access for up to six months,” he wrote.

“If China imposes its national security law, the British government will change its immigration rules and allow any holder of these passports from Hong Kong to come to the UK for a renewable period of 12 months and be given further immigration rights including the right to work which would place them on the route to citizenship,” he said.

“This would amount to one of the biggest changes to our visa system in history. If it proves necessary Britain will take this step and take it willingly,” Johnson said.

The new proposal from Britain was a big step up from what Foreign Minister Dominic Raab announced just a day before, when he told parliament that the offer would be open to just the 350,000 passport holders.

Speaking to China directly, Johnson wrote in his piece: “Britain does not seek to prevent China’s rise; on the contrary we will work side by side on all the issues where our interests converge, from trade to climate change. We want a modern and mature relationship, based on mutual respect and recognising China’s place in the world.

“And it is precisely because we welcome China as a leading member of the world community that we expect it to abide by international agreements.”

Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous region which has been part of China since 1997, when the UK handed over the former colony to Beijing.

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