How Brexit diminishes the rights of British Nationals overseas

I was in Hong Kong in March, and most of my friends had asked me the same question: How’s the progress with BN(O) equal rights movement and how did Brexit affect it?

So what is BN(O)? It stands for British National (Overseas). According to the Home Office website, it means ‘Someone who was a British overseas territories citizen by connection with Hong Kong was able to register as a BN(O) before 1 July 1997.’ They are not granted Right of Abode anywhere, including the UK and HK.

The strict terms of BN(O) made most think that it is a travel document, but it is more than that, such as:

  1. They are eligible to join Her Majesty’s Civil Service, and are eligible to vote if they have lived in the UK for more than six months;
  2. may become British citizens by registration after residing in the UK for more than five years and possessing ILR for more than one year;
  3. would not be subjected to the annual quota of 1000 people if they wanted to apply to stay in UK under the working holiday scheme;
  4. their status is for life and is not be lost in case of Dual or Multiple Nationality, though their siblings cannot inherit the status.

According to the official figures, currently there are more than 800,000 BN(O) holders. Although the numbers are dwindling, they have no intention to withdraw it, and still use the passport to travel overseas. 

Our former leader Lord Paddy Ashdown campaigned for giving BN(O) holders the right of abode since years ago. There was also a seminar organised by the House of Lord with various campaign groups to call for the extension of BN(O) rights in March this year. 

The goal of the campaign groups is to fight for extending their rights. In a radio interview, Choy Ki, one of the representatives of BN(O) Association, mentioned, ‘BN(O) is not only a travel document, but a national identity with a lot of rights under the jurisdiction of the UK.’

The current political spectrum, however, has complicated the issue. For BN(O) holders, Brexit means our visa free travelling status to our EU neighbours could no longer be available. This is important because EU member states offered visa free travel for the HK passport holders, and most BN(O) holders are eligible to obtain one.

To HK citizens, BN(O) represents our country as an open and multi-cultural society, and our reputation as a liberal democracy today. The populist sentiment of Brexit referendum and the aftermath has weakened the face value of the BN(O). In case Brexit happens, it is the BN(O) holders who will suffer from the consequences.

Stopping Brexit can prevent further damages to the face value of the BN(O), and maintain the reputation of UK as a country to welcome BN(O) holders to contribute and be a part of our society.

For further information, one of the campaigning organisations, Hong Kong Watch, provides regular updates on their website:

* Larry Ngan is Data Officer for Brent Liberal Democrats, a member of Friends of Hong Kong and a campaigner on Hong Kong affairs.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Peter Martin 9th May '19 - 10:47am

    In my experience, British Nationals often expect too many rights when they are overseas. I’ve seen this in Australia. Whereas a British person will see usually themselves as an ‘ex-pat’, they will cheerfully describe someone of Vietnamese origin as an ‘immigrant’.

    Rightly, the Australian government is having none of it. The days are long gone when they will allow holders of a British passport any special privileges. Everyone is treated the same. If you’re legally settled in Australia you can apply for Australian citizenship after a qualifying period of two years. Once you get it you can vote. You don’t have to give up any existing citizenship. If you don’t get it you can’t vote. No ifs or buts.

    And that is fair enough IMO.

  • Hi Peter, actually for British National (Overseas), it is very different. 1. They are not British Citizens so they do not enjoy the same rights as BC does, 2. What BN(O) holders campaigned for is just equal rights as BC does, no more than that; 3. For BN(O) holders, they want guarantee that in case the freedom of speech and living conditions deteriorated in Hong Kong, (Which is happening already) they can at least have a way out and move away from the city for long and good….

  • In my experience, British Citizens don’t enjoy many rights when they are overseas.
    See the the Liberal Democrats Overseas website
    The situation in Hong Kong is one of concern.

  • Peter Hirst 11th May '19 - 1:28pm

    I’m all for allowing people who’ve lived here and had settled status to return at any time. I’m not as convinced at giving them voting rights unless they exercise that right. Where you live is more important than where you lived or might live.

  • Albert Chow 12th Aug '19 - 7:42pm

    Reading this in August 2019 does mean a lot as a BN(O) holder as well as a father whose son is not eligible to apply for one. Really hope that we can move to the UK.

  • I supposed the equal right from BN(O) to BC. But it shouldn’t be do it the same way like 1997 before. Granted to privilege families with UK passport and they don’t even need to live in the UK. if any change BN(O) holders can become BC int the future. They should be really settle in UK instead of just getting a ‘second safety passport’.

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