A proposal to move the entire five and a half million residents of Hong Kong to Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles was discussed by government officials, it has been revealed.
The suggestion sparked a flurry of correspondence in Whitehall in 1983, newly released documents show.
The novel idea was proposed by academic, Christie Davies, a sociology lecturer at Reading University. He suggested a new “city state” could be created between Coleraine and Londonderry.
A Northern Ireland civil servant, George Fergusson, seized on the idea and launched into enthusiastic discussions with the Foreign Office. A file entitled The Replantation of N. Ireland from Hong Kong records the exchanges – the title echoes the 17th-century settlement, or “plantation of Scots in Ulster by King James I”.
He sent a memorandum to David Snoxell, a colleague in the Republic of Ireland Department of the Foreign Office, saying: “At this stage we see real advantages in taking the proposal seriously.”
It is not clear whether his tongue was in his cheek when he wrote, but by the time the reply came back two weeks later from the David Snoxell at the Foreign Office, somebody had twigged that the idea was perhaps not entirely serious.
“My initial reaction, however, is that the proposal could be useful to the extent that the arrival of 5.5 million Chinese in Northern Ireland may induce the indigenous peoples to forsake their homeland for a future elsewhere,” Mr Snoxell drily replied.
“We should not underestimate the danger of this taking the form of a mass exodus of boat refugees in the direction of South East Asia.
“On the other hand, the countries of that region may view with equanimity the prospect of receiving a God-fearing, law-abiding people with an ingrained work ethic, to replace those that have left.”
Worse, he added, the plan could have serious implications for the UK’s dispute with Dublin over the sovereignty of Lough Foyle.
“The Chinese people of Hong Kong are essentially a fishing and maritime people,” he wrote.
“I am sure you would share our view that it would be unwise to settle the people of Hong Kong in the vicinity of Lough Foyle until we had established our claims on the lough and whether these extended to the high or low water mark.”
A Foreign Office colleague noted: “My mind will be boggling for the rest of the day.”