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Controversial Express Rail joint checkpoint bill passes committee stage amid protests; next reading in June

The joint checkpoint bill for the Express Rail Link has been passed by a legislative committee amid protests from democrats. Pro-democracy lawmakers criticised the “thuggish” behaviour of committee chair Regina Ip as the debate came to a close on Monday. The bill will now undergo a second reading at a general meeting next month.

The pro-democracy camp and the Hong Kong Bar Association have cast doubt over the constitutionality of the checkpoint arrangement at the new station. Hong Kong is set to effectively give up its jurisdiction across a quarter of the West Kowloon terminus, where immigration and customs procedures will be performed by mainland law enforcement agents. Critics say the city is effectively ceding land to China.

Earlier on Monday, Ip ordered four lawmakers to be kicked out of the meeting room for raising procedural questions and launching protests. She also shortened lawmakers’ time for questioning to one minute each.

LegCo express rail link protest

Photo: DMHK screenshot.

The pro-democracy camp stood up in protest when the amendments were being voted upon during the afternoon session. They chanted that the bill was unconstitutional and that ceding land was a “shameful” act. More than 20 security guards formed a wall to block lawmakers from attempting to go near the chair’s table.

But Ip continued with the voting process and dozens of amendments from the democrats were all rejected within half an hour.

“You have chanted slogans for so long, you are not participating in the meeting – sit down and rest,” Ip said.

During the vote, pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho took photos with his phone and broadcast a Facebook Live video. Ip asked him to stop as democrats protested.

Junius Ho

Photo: Apple Daily.

The LegCo Secretariat will have to compile a report for the bills committee on, or before, May 25 to submit to the House Committee. The second reading of the bill will then resume on June 6.

The government has said it hopes the bill will pass before the legislature’s summer break in mid-July, so that the rail service can start operating in September.

Lawmaker Claudia Mo said the pro-democracy camp “certainly deplored the thuggish behaviour of Regina Ip.”

“She behaved just like a political thug throughout the meeting today. She set a very bad record for the LegCo history,” Mo said.

LegCo express rail link protest

Photo: DMHK screenshot.

Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung said the conclusion of Monday’s committee marked “the start of a tragedy.”

He said former justice secretary Rimsky Yuen once proposed citing Article 20 of the Basic Law to ask China’s top legislature to grant Hong Kong power to lease the land to the mainland. But it was rejected by Beijing and the proposal disappeared.

“This is certainly an unconstitutional bill,” he said. “After this bill is passed, the Basic Law will not be protected anymore.”

“We could not ask about many complicated issues – because the committee was rushed through – about whether it is constitutional or whether it violated international conventions.”

Regina Ip

Regina Ip. Photo: DMHK screenshot.

But Ip said condemned the democrats’ protests as misbehaviour: “They never accepted the bill. They want to make a performance. I cannot stop the vote because of their performance,” she said.

“I have been very tolerant. Even the pro-establishment camp has said I was too tolerant towards the democrats.”

Ip said the committee spent more than 40 hours scrutinising the bill and held two public hearings, whilst democrats’ questions had become repetitive: “We have done our best to accommodate them.”

Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan said the bill was constitutional and the joint checkpoint arrangement will bring convenience to the public.

Controversial Express Rail joint checkpoint bill passes committee stage amid protests; next reading in June