A new Hong Kong in Northern Ireland?

Published: 4th Aug 2015

It was a plan "too preposterous for words" according to the Belfast Telegraph, but that didn't stop a number of outlets reporting seriously on the government's proposal to relocate the population of Hong Kong to Northern Ireland.

The Express, for example, stated that "the scheme failed to impress the Foreign Office". The New York Times noted that when George Fergusson, an official in the Northern Ireland Office, came up with the "bizarre plan" it was not entirely clear whether or not he was writing "tongue-in-cheek".

Most outlets recognised that the replies to his memo took it as a joke, but painted a picture of an initial thought that might—or might not—have been serious.

The whole business was far too entertaining for us to pass over. We got in touch with the National Archives in Kew and requested a copy of the exchanges. Scanned copies have now arrived, in all their high-definition glory.

So was the Northern Ireland Office seriously recommending relocating the populace of Hong Kong to Ulster—more specifically, sunny Magilligan?

Absolutely not. The ancient art of spotting a joke without the aid of emojiis may be somewhat lost, and to be fair the humour of the Fergusson memo is very dry.

But there are hints. For instance, the word "spoof" written on the top right hand corner of the first page.

And while most of the text reads very seriously, the passage wondering whether the land set aside for settlement would need to be Hong Kong-shaped is a bit of a giveaway.

If you're interested in reading the full exchange, you can find it here.

If you're interesting in envisaging how this might have worked in practice, you can find the relevant scene from Father Ted here.


Full Fact and international partners win Google AI Impact Challenge

We aim for our factchecks to be as accurate and up-to-date as possible. If you think we've made an error or missed some relevant information, please email team@fullfact.org.