Bizarre UK government memos from 1983 discussing plans to relocate 5.5 million people from Hong Kong to Northern Ireland were nothing more than a "joke" during a time of increased insecurity about the future of Hong Kong and troubles throughout Northern Ireland, according to a former British diplomat.
On Friday, Britain's National Archives released a government file showing UK officials discussing the proposal, which would have apparently involved a newly built "city state" in Northern Ireland.
The formerly classified documents revealed a memo to the Foreign Office written by George Fergusson, a former official at the Northern Ireland Office. He wrote that he saw "advantages" in taking seriously the proposal by a university lecturer to "transplant" Hong Kong to Northern Ireland in a bid to revitalize the local economy and save Hong Kong.
The memos came at a time when then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was engaged in talks with China about the future of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 after 156 years of British rule.
In response to the memo, another official, David Snoxell, responded 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."
The story was initially picked up by the Guardian and the BBC. In response to the coverage, former British official David Snoxell has responded, saying that the memos were a joke between officials, and he's shocked that anyone took his exchange of letters with Fergusson seriously.
Snoxell told the Associated Press that the exchange "relieved some of the tension" at a time when Northern Ireland was wracked by insecurity following hunger strikes by Republican prisoners and UK politicians were anxious about Hong Kong's future.
The Associated Press contributed to this report