Before Hong Kong was handed over from the British to the Chinese in 1997, U.K. officials had discussed a plan to resettle the island nation’s entire population to Ireland, newly released documents reveal.

Formerly classified government documents published Friday by Britain’s National Archives reveal a 1983 government file, titled “Replantation of Northern Ireland from Hong Kong,” in which British officials discussed a plan to settle 5.5 million Hong Kong residents in a newly built “city state” between Coleraine and Londonderry in Northern Ireland, the South China Morning Post reported.

George Fergusson, a Northern Ireland civil servant, reportedly came up with the plan after listening to a university lecturer’s proposal, which would have supposedly revitalized Ireland’s flagging economy and saved Hong Kong, which the lecturer said had “no future on its present site.”

“At this stage we see real advantages in taking the proposal seriously,” Fergusson reportedly told one of his colleagues.

The plan was proposed at a time when Northern Ireland was locked in a conflict known as "The Troubles," between Unionists who favored staying within the U.K. and Irish nationalists who wanted it to leave the kingdom.

“If the plantation were undertaken,” Fergusson reportedly wrote in the document, “it would have evident advantages in reassuring Unionist opinion of the open-ended nature of the Union.”

“We are undecided here whether the arrival of 5½ million Cantonese would make government policy [on devolution] … more or less easy to implement. Arithmetically, recognition of three identities might be thought more difficult."

Fergusson sent the proposal to his colleague in the Republic of Ireland Department of the Foreign Office, David Snoxell, who seemed to regard the conversation as a joke. "My initial reaction ... is 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," he reportedly wrote.

"We should not underestimate the danger of this taking the form of a mass exodus of boat refugees in the direction of South East Asia."

Snoxell, now retired, confirmed that the idea was discussed in jest. He told BBC on Friday that the exchange “was a spoof between colleagues who had a sense of humor. ... You can see it wasn't intended seriously."

"Sadly, it's impossible to make jokes like this any more, the Diplomatic Service has lost its sense of humor. I think that's a shame because it's through humor that you build relationships, with other departments, with other diplomats at home and abroad," Snoxell said.