Civil servants in the UK raised, or at least joked about, the idea of resettling the population of Hong Kong in Northern Ireland during the 80s according to documents released to the National Archives in London.
While the conflict in Northern Ireland was a daily and pressing concern, the looming problem of how to handle the transfer of Hong Kong back to Chinese rule was also causing nightmares for officials in the British government.
To deal with these issues, a senior civil servant devised an ingenious solution by which both problems could be solved in one fell swoop: relocating the 5.5 million residents of Hong Kong to Northern Ireland.
According to The Guardian, the proposal was little more than a political-in-joke rather than a genuine plan, but one civil servant actually said in writing that it should be taken seriously.
The idea was first proposed by a British academic who claimed that the colony’s population would have no political future after the handover to China in 1997. A civil servant from Northern Ireland named George Fergusson seized on the idea, discussing the various merits and technicalities with the Foreign Office.
In a rather tongue-in-cheek manner, Fergusson pointed to fifty Chinese families from Vietnam who had been resettled in Northern Ireland, stating that it “has established that the Chinese do not find the Northern Ireland climate objectionable and that they can get on reasonably well with the current inhabitants.”
A Foreign Office official, who we can only assume was in on the joke, replied: “You have raised some important considerations to which we shall want to give careful thought. My initial reaction, however, is that the proposal could be useful to the extent that 5.5 million Chinese may induce the indigenous peoples to forsake their homeland for a future elsewhere.”
While there is nothing to suggest that the proposal was ever seriously discussed by British ministers, the document was given a “restricted” status and only released to the public last Friday.
Despite the handover, Hong Kong residents are still able to hold British overseas passports, which act as a valid travel document and provide the holder with visa free access to the UK. Figures show that the number of Hongkongers renewing these documents recently hit an eight-year high.
By Dominic Jackson