/Wednesday briefing: UK lifeline to Hongkongers

Wednesday briefing: UK lifeline to Hongkongers

Top story: Work visa and ‘route to citizenship’

Hello, Warren Murray with you, well on our way through the week.

Boris Johnson has opened the path to UK work and residency visas for stricken Hong Kong people if China goes ahead and imposes a national security edict on the territory. About 350,000 Hongkongers already hold “British National Overseas” passports and more than 2.5 million are believed eligible to apply. Johnson wrote in the Times that if new security laws were pursued by Beijing, “Britain would have no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong”.

The prime minister 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 … This would amount to one of the biggest changes to our visa system in history.” Johnson may face cabinet resistance to the idea but it was welcomed by the human rights NGO Hong Kong Watch. Johnny Patterson, its director, said: “No sitting PM has made a statement as bold as this on Hong Kong since the handover. It reflects first the severity of the situation on the ground, and second the fact that the British government genuinely, and rightly, feel a sense of duty to citizens of Hong Kong.”

Coronavirus latest – Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of causing a collapse in public confidence over the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, the Labour leader accuses the PM of “winging it” over the easing of the lockdown and making a “difficult situation 10 times worse” by carrying out “an exit without a strategy”. On the Cummings furore, Starmer said: “It’s blindingly obvious to me that the prime minister is just too weak to sack [him].”

Starmer’s intervention came as Prof Neil Ferguson, the leading epidemiologist who formerly advised the government, warned that if coronavirus infections in hospitals and care homes keep spilling into the community they will sustain the outbreak for months; while an inquiry confirmed that people of black and Asian origin are disproportionately affected by coronavirus; the head of UK Statistics accused the government of continuing to mislead the public over the number of tests carried out; and it emerged that England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, was responsible for vetoing the government’s wish for England’s official coronavirus alert level to be reduced.

Nearly 10 years of progress in narrowing the attainment gap in England between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates has probably been wiped out in a few months due to the pandemic, a study by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has found. The EEF, Sutton Trust, Impetus and Nesta have been in talks with the government over plans for a national tutoring pilot helping 1,600 pupils in disadvantaged communities over coming weeks. The EEF says only urgent and sustained support can give disadvantaged pupils hope of catching up.

The virus has infected 6.37 million people globally and more than 380,000 have died, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University. Asian markets have rallied although Australia has entered recession for the first time in 29 years. Before you read on, open our global coronavirus live blog in another tab so you can keep coming back.

There’s more in our Coronavirus Extra section further down … and here’s where you can find all our coverage of the outbreak – from breaking news to factchecks and advice.

‘Turned holy ground into battleground’ – Labour has called on the British government to halt any sales of riot gear to US police in response to the death of George Floyd. Anger and grief over Floyd’s killing continues to fuel demonstrations across the United States despite unprecedented curfews. In some cities police have sought to show solidarity and seek reconciliation by marching and kneeling alongside demonstrators. Stemming the disorder that has several times turned deadly has preoccupied the president to the extent of threatening military action – but there have been many examples of peaceful participation including clergy who were among people violently swept out of the way by police so Donald Trump could pose in front of St John’s church opposite the White House. “They turned holy ground into a battleground,” the Rev Gini Gerbasi said.

Midweek catch-up

> The Northern Ireland assembly has voted to call for an extension to the Brexit transition period, arguing the UK government cannot impose complex border checks down the Irish Sea while Britain is occupied with coronavirus.

> More homes for families would be freed up for sale by investing in purpose-built housing to which older people could downsize, according to new research published today. It finds there are 15m surplus bedrooms across the UK, rising to 20m by 2040 – many of them in homes that are too big for their present owners.

> At least 100,000 people including coronavirus patients are being moved to safety from the path of Cyclone Nisarga – the first such storm in more than 70 years to threaten Mumbai, India’s financial capital.

> Borrowers granted payment holidays will soon receive “thuggish” debt threat letters because lenders are required by outdated laws to send them, Martin Lewis, the “money saving expert”, has warned. Some banks are getting around the problem by including covering letters telling customers they needn’t worry.

> The UK’s electricity system recorded its “greenest” ever month in sunny May after running without coal-fired electricity for a full calendar month, National Grid says.  

How to tame small dragons – Slovenia’s Postojna cave has put its “baby dragons” on display for the first time. The olms are mysterious underground blind amphibians that retain juvenile characteristics (including their pink external gills) for all of their 100-year lifespans.

Mother olm guarding her egg

Mother olm guarding her egg. Photograph: Postojna cave

At 30cm long, adult olms are the world’s largest subterranean animals. Their hearts beat just twice a minute and they can go more than a decade without food – and for the first time ever, Slovenia has managed to breed them in captivity.

Today in Focus podcast: After George Floyd, will anything change?

Protests have exploded across the US after a video showed Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, an African American man, despite his pleas that he could not breathe. Floyd lost consciousness and died. Paul Butler discusses the history of police killings of black Americans and whether Floyd’s death could be a turning point.

Today in Focus

After George Floyd, will anything change?

Lunchtime read: How Trump has normalised mayhem

On Monday a peaceful protest was driven out of a city square in front of the White House with teargas, baton charges and mounted police so Trump could pose in front of a church with a Bible. A priest and a seminarian who had been distributing water and hand sanitiser were forced to retreat by police with helmets and riot shields. A Bible was procured for Trump from inside the church for him to hold aloft. Journalists asked if it was his Bible. “It’s a Bible,” he replied.

Donald Trump poses with purloined Bible outside St John’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC

Donald Trump poses with purloined Bible outside St John’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC. Photograph: Tom Brenner/Reuters

The sheer tumult of the Trump era – the unceasing torrent of events that were unthinkable even hours before – has left a nation constantly off balance, unable to find its bearing and grasp how far it has travelled. The rate of fresh affronts has often outpaced the capacity to digest or even describe them. The developments of the past 24 hours are a reminder of how slippery the downward slope has been, writes Julian Borger.


The Premier League is close to revealing a revised fixture list for the rest of the season with some teams expected to have to play three games in seven days. The FA is unlikely to issue any action against players for taking a knee in matches when football resumes this month. Jonathan Liew says sports statements about George Floyd mean more for the brand than any commitment to social justice. Valencia have criticised the coach of Italian side Atalanta for attending their Champions League game when he had Covid-19. The ECB says it could withstand the financial impact of a season of empty venues after posting record turnover thanks to the Cricket World Cup and Ashes last year. Premiership rugby teams have been cleared to allow their players to start training as games are slated to begin again in late July.


The impact of the virus will see the Carnival cruises and easyJet slip out of the FTSE100. The index nevertheless continues to recover lost ground and is set to rise 48 points at the opening in line with Asian markets overnight. The pound is still benefiting from the fall in the greenback and is buying $1.258 and €1.122.

The papers

Quarantine is approached from different angles today. The Telegraph quotes Priti Patel saying “We owe it to the victims” to place restrictions on people arriving in the UK. The Mail pleads for Boris Johnson to “Save our summer holidays” by going ahead with travel corridors. The Mirror says the plans “may be relaxed” in a “Lifeline for summer hols abroad”.

Guardian front page, Wednesday 3 June 2020

Guardian front page, Wednesday 3 June 2020.

The Guardian has Keir Starmer calling for the PM to “get a grip or risk second wave of coronavirus”. The Labour leader accuses Johnson of “winging it” and timing decisions about easing lockdown to deflect attention away from the Cummings affair. The Metro reports on the “North-south Covid divide” saying the regions are not having the same slowdown in the death rate as London.

“PM offers hope of refuge to 3m Hong Kong people” – the Times leads with a write-off from a Boris Johnson op-ed saying that if China goes ahead with imposing security laws, Britain will “have no choice” but to extend visa opportunities for eligible residents of the territory. China is also in the FT’s sights, from another perspective: “Brussels seeks to curb takeovers by state-subsidised foreign rivals”. The i warns of the “Biggest crisis UK universities have ever seen” with “every area of academic life” affected by Covid-19 fallout. The Sun has “Tipple whammy” saying pubs are getting ready to open the taps. The Express goes with “Extra penny on tax to fix care crisis” and says “angry Britons” are prepared to pay. It is left unclear whether more mild-mannered Britons are positively disposed towards the idea.

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