THE UK is to offer Hong Kong residents a 'path to citizenship' if China does not back down on tightening restrictions.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he was "deeply troubled" that China has voted to overrule Hong Kong's autonomy and implement its national security laws this afternoon.

He said if the Chinese government did not "step back from the brink" the UK would waive the six month limit currently imposed on British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong residents were able to apply for a BNO passport after 1997 when the sovereignty for the territory passed to China. There are currently an estimated 143,000 BNO passport holders.

Mr Raab said: "BNO passport holders currently have the right to come to the UK for six months. If China continues down this path and implements this national security legislation we will change that status, and we will remove that six month limit and allow those BNO passport holders to come to the UK and to apply to work and study for extendable periods of 12 months and that would itself provide a pathway to future citizenship."

The Foreign secretary added that the UK, USA, Canada and Australia had been in discussions about the Chinese developments, and said: "We are deeply troubled about this step.

"We’ve put out a joint statement and the decision now lies with China but if it follows through on this legislation and implements it, it would clearly violate the autonomy of the people of Hong Kong and it would also violate the freedoms set out in the UK-China Joint Declaration, which dates back to 1984."

The Liberal Democrats have taken the offer of help one step further, and are calling for the UK Government to give all 7.5million Hong Kong residents the option of getting a BNO passport.

LibDem foreign affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: “This move would be a welcome step in the right direction.

“Beijing has repeatedly shown contempt for the Sino-British Declaration. Under that Declaration, the UK has a duty to the people of Hong Kong.

“The Government must now ensure the passport is not an empty promise. Relatively few people have a BNO Passport as the scheme was closed years ago.

“The cross-party Hong Kong Bill, would reopen the passport offer to also give young Hong Kongers the right to live in the UK. I am urging the Government to do this as a priority.”