Britain had no legal right to organise elections in Hong Kong for a term of office that extended beyond 30 June 1997, unless the constituency arrangements were agreed with Peking. Because there was no such agreement on arrangements for the elections held in 1995 under the constitutional changes unilaterally introduced by Mr Patten, the council thus elected will cease to have legitimacy at the moment of transfer of power.
Faced with the unexpected and treaty-breaking withdrawal of British co- operation to achieve a smooth transition, and since immediate elections would overload the new Hong Kong government, China improvised and created a short-term Interim Council. That body is to be replaced within 12 months by a chamber elected under the system agreed by both sides prior to Mr Patten's appointment.
It is China which has observed its treaty obligations, Britain, through Mr Patten, which has flouted them. It is lamentable that the new government here, by backing the governor and his provocations, has missed an opportunity to correct its predecessor's policy of confrontation with China.