Who are the Hongkongers winning seats on UK local councils? BN(O) migrant scheme paves way for new life in politics for some

That didn’t stop Ng, who moved to the country in 2021 and earlier this month became the first former Hong Kong district councillor to win public office in the United Kingdom. Unlike most of the Hongkongers who moved to the country via the British National (Overseas) migration pathway, Ng has British citizenship.

“I want to tell people it would have been no big deal even if I had lost when I decided to run for the election, and I hope to encourage more people to take part now with my victory,” he told the Post.

“I believe that Hongkongers, after moving to the UK, should not just integrate in the country by going to work and schools, or paying taxes. We should also get engaged in politics.”

Ng, a former Democratic Party member who represented the Mid-Levels East constituency, was among about 200 opposition councillors who resigned in 2021, a year after Beijing reshaped the city’s political landscape with the introduction of the national security law in response to the social unrest in 2019 before.

He said it did not take long to adapt to the fresh start as people from Britain and Hong Kong shared similar livelihood concerns such as access to dental services and school places.

But one major difference was the statutory powers held by the UK councils to make decisions in areas such as council tax collection and spending, he said, which differed from the advisory functions of the Hong Kong bodies.

He added his background as a former district councillor in the city was an asset.

“Many residents know what’s going on in Hong Kong and they are supportive of [newcomers],” he said.

“While we may have different cultures, skin colours or even accents, our fundamental values on human rights and freedoms are actually very aligned with each other. This election has also proven that.”

Ng was not the only newly arrived Hongkonger to secure victory.

Ying Perrett, also of the Liberal Democrats and who moved to the UK via the BN(O) pathway in 2021, won the Bisley and West End ward of Surrey Heath Borough Council last November.

Ying Perrett moved to the UK in 2021 and says she was “mainly apolitical” during her time in Hong Kong. Photo: Handout

Unlike Ng, 58-year-old Perrett was, in her own words, “mainly apolitical” during her time in the city.

Fluent in both Cantonese and English, Perrett became the go-to person for newcomers from Hong Kong arriving in her community. She said one of the areas in which she was frequently asked for advice was from Hongkongers being asked to pay a year’s rent upfront as they had no credit scores.

“It is a way for me to get involved in the community and to give back,” she said.

She added the country’s high degree of inclusiveness allowed her to succeed in her first bid for election, despite only arriving just over a year ago.

But a balancing act was needed to meet both the needs of Hongkongers and other constituents, while many issues were highly unfamiliar, including arrangements for managing grass cutting, bins and even a local population of bats.

Al Pinkerton of the Liberal Democrats, who worked with Perrett in Surrey Heath, highlighted the political potential of the Hong Kong diaspora.

Pinkerton, an associate professor of geopolitics at Royal Holloway University of London, said a number of Hongkongers had experienced society in a way that “many very settled British people will never experience”.

“What I think Hongkongers will bring to the political system is an awareness of sometimes the rough edges of our political system, the difficulty in accessing it.”

So far three BN(O) holders in the party had won local elections, with four more planning their bids, he said.

Krish Kandiah, chairman of the Welcoming Committee for Hongkongers, a non-profit group, said the elected newcomers had done extremely well as Britain did not have an “easy system” and they were also not well-known in the community.

He noted there had been no negative feedback among the general population despite increased anti-immigration discourse.

Andy Ng (centre) says his background as a former district councillor in the city is an asset. Photo: Wokingham Liberal Democrats

Michaela Benson, a professor in public sociology at Lancaster University, said Hongkongers in the UK benefited from being allowed to stand for election – a right not extended to all immigrants.

“I think three people [getting elected] is pretty impressive, given the short time period they’ve been here. That makes them particularly well positioned to represent their communities and talk about the issues that people in their communities are facing,” she said.

Benson said newly arrived Hongkongers faced a range of challenges such as not having qualifications recognised.

“For any community in the UK, having access to power, to be able to speak to the people who can affect change is important, and that has always meant having representation from your community,” she said.

The UK government approved 191,158 BN(O) Visas for Hongkongers as of December 2023 since it officially launched the bespoke bathway in 2021 in response to the Beijing-imposed national security law the year before.

They are allowed to work, study and live in Britain for six years, after which they will be eligible to apply for citizenship.


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