Decolonising Britishness? The 1981 British Nationality Act and the Identity Crisis of Hong Kong Elites

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On 30 October 1981, the British Nationality Act received Royal Assent. Bringing nationality law in line with immigration policy, the Act created three separate categories of citizenship, including ‘British Dependent Territories Citizen’ (BDTC) for existing British dependent territories such as Hong Kong. During the deliberations over the bill, the Unofficial Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils in Hong Kong played an important role in lobbying the Thatcher government to protect the status and rights of British subjects in Hong Kong. With the emergence of the 1997 question, the Unofficial Members feared that the United Kingdom was distancing itself from Hong Kong as a prelude to decolonisation. No sooner had the 1981 British Nationality Act come into effect than the Anglo-Chinese negotiations over Hong Kong’s future raised serious questions about the continuation of Hong Kong’s ‘Britishness’ after 1997. The Thatcher government was willing to make concessions on the nationality issue as long as they did not risk opening the floodgates to Hong Kong immigrants, who were deemed to have no close connection with the United Kingdom. A general fear of non-white immigration underpinned the 1981 British Nationality Act and Thatcher’s forging of an exclusive British identity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)565-590
Number of pages26
JournalThe Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
Issue number3
Early online date4 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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