A full review must be carried out into how a suspected Chinese agent was able to get close to senior British politicians, said Security Minister Damian Hinds.
MI5, the domestic intelligence agency, took the unusual step of issuing a warning to MPs on Thursday accusing Christine Lee – a prominent London-based lawyer – of engaging in ‘political interference activities’ on behalf of the regime ruling communist in China.
The Chinese Embassy rejected the allegations, accusing the authorities of “defamation and intimidation” against the Chinese community in the UK, while a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said the British were ” too obsessed with James Bond 007 movies”.
However, Hinds said the security services had been aware of Lee’s activities – including funneling funds to British politicians in an attempt to secure their influence – for “some time”. The Times had reported on his activities in 2017, including his large payments to the office of Barry Gardiner, then shadow energy minister.
It’s unclear what prompted the M15 to make its surprise statement on Thursday, but when asked about the extent of Chinese influence in the UK, Hinds said on Friday: “We are learning all the time, all the implications, of course, can be taken into account.”
Much of Hinds’ circulation was diverted to questions about new revelations about Downing Street parties, dashing any hopes in government circles that the MI5 warning might draw the media to a new topic.
Nonetheless, Tory MPs have tried to take political advantage of the revelations, suggesting that the approach of Labor and the Liberal Democrats to Chinese investment in the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, closed in 2015, may have been influenced by the Chinese. . In fact, Gardiner has publicly stated that Hinkley is not essential to UK energy needs.
Conservative MP Marcus Fysh said: “Chinese government spy agencies have massively funded Labor and Liberal Democrat frontline political operations in the UK. The energy policy led by Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats and supported by Barry Gardiner, has greatly favored China and needs to be addressed.
Trade Minister Greg Hands said: ‘This is extremely concerning. I was trade minister. Barry Gardiner was our Labor shadow, and we used to brief him confidentially on complex and sensitive international trade negotiations that would certainly have been of interest to the Chinese government.
Davey’s Kingston constituency party received £5,000 from the Chinese in February 2013 when he was Energy Secretary. Huawei UK board member Sir Michael Rake also donated £5,000 to Davey in 2020.
Gardiner received over £500,000 from Christine Lee over six years to cover staffing costs in his office and to employ his son as his diary manager. The son quit his job on Thursday following the revelations.
Lee also received an award from Theresa May when she was Prime Minister, for her work on a project promoting good relations between the Chinese and British communities in the UK, and was a VIP guest when David Cameron hosted President Xi Jinping in London. His relations with the Chinese Embassy were widely known.
Gardiner said he had been in contact with the security services for many years regarding his contacts with Lee, but only learned on Thursday that she had engaged in “illegal activity”.
Gardiner had been a supporter of Chinese investment in British nuclear power plants, but the current Labor front opposes this potential investment even more than the government.
Tim Loughton, one of four MPs subject to Chinese sanctions, said it was “deeply worrying that agents of the Chinese Communist Party had gained access to the mother of parliaments and funded the offices of certain politicians. We have a need urgent need for a comprehensive audit of where they bought influence or infiltrated in virtually every aspect of the UK and then we can take appropriate action to roll back that influence.
Lee is unlikely to face charges, as Home Secretary Priti Patel said his activities had fallen below the criminal threshold.
In the Security Services Interference Alert (SSIA) sent to MPs and peers, MI5 said Lee ‘acted covertly’ in coordination with the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Communist Party of China (CCP). ).
He said she had been “engaged in facilitating financial donations to political parties, parliamentarians, aspiring parliamentarians and those seeking political office in the UK, including facilitating donations to political entities in the name of of foreign nationals”.
The Electoral Commission will be asked to investigate whether these donations broke election law as they actually came from a foreign power and not a British citizen.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed the allegations, accusing the British government of making “baseless allegations and exaggerating the Chinese threat” to serve its own purposes.
“It is highly irresponsible to make sensational remarks based on hearsay evidence and the guesswork of certain individuals,” he said.
The Chinese ambassador was asked for an explanation when he met British diplomats at the Foreign Office in what is described as a routine meeting.
News of the alert became known when Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith, a frequent critic of China, revealed that the Speaker of the House of Commons had written to MPs about the MI5 warning.