Parliament rocked by spy scandal after suspected Chinese agent found in Westminster

13 January 2022, 15:00 | Updated: 13 January 2022, 16:13

Parliamentary staff were warned about Christine Lee after a spy scandal rocked Westminster
Parliamentary staff were warned about Christine Lee after a spy scandal rocked Westminster. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

MI5 has uncovered a suspected Chinese agent trying to influence MPs in Westminster.

An email has been sent by Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle with a warning about a lawyer called Christine Lee.

In his message, Sir Lindsay claimed she had been "engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party", "engaging with Members here at Parliament" and a now-defunct All-Party Parliamentary Group called "Chinese in Britain".

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Sir Iain Duncan Smith said that while the agent had been banned from Parliament, he understood no further action is due to be taken and no deportation was planned.

The Telegraph said that concerns were raised about Ms Lee's connections with Labour MP Barry Gardiner in 2017. Daniel Wilkes, her son, worked in his office until Thursday morning.

Reports say Theresa May wrote a personal letter to Ms Lee in 2019, when the former was Prime Minister, as she was given a "Point of Light" award by Downing Street for her charity work.

Ms Lee, whose firm is called Christine Lee & Co, has been pictured with ex-PM David Cameron and former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The Mail said she is a former chief legal adviser for the Chinese embassy to the UK and is the secretary of the Inter-Party China Group in Westminster.

She has also reportedly donated more than £500,000 to Mr Gardiner and hundreds of thousands to Labour.

Ms Lee's firm also gave £5,000 to the Liberal Democrats in 2005 and has links to the Conservatives, the Mail said.

Mr Gardiner said Ms Lee had donated money to fund researchers in his office, but that she was not used to channel improper funds to him or his office and did not have a say in who was hired with the money.

He added that her son had stepped down from the role of his diary manager earlier on Thursday, and that she ceased funding researchers in June 2020.

Sir Lindsay's email said: "I should highlight the fact that Lee has facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China.

"This facilitation was done covertly to mask the origins of the payments.

An email sent to parliamentary staff warned about Christine Lee
An email sent to parliamentary staff warned about Christine Lee. Picture: LBC

"This is clearly unacceptable behaviour and steps are being taken to ensure it ceases."

A Security Service Interference Alert, issued by MI5, said Lee "acted covertly" with the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

It said that anyone contacted by her should be "mindful of her affiliation with the Chinese state and remit to advance the CCP's agenda in UK politics".

"We judge that the UFWD is seeking to covertly interfere in UK politics through establishing links with established and aspiring parliamentarians across the political spectrum," the alert said.

"The UFWD seeks to cultivate relationships with influential figures in order to ensure the UK political landscape is favourable to the CCP's agenda and to challenge those that raise concerns about CCP activity, such as human rights.

"Lee has been engaged in the facilitation of financial donations to political parties, parliamentarians, aspiring parliamentarians and individuals seeking political office in the UK, including facilitating donations to political entities on behalf of foreign nationals.

"Lee has publicly stated that her activities are to represent the UK Chinese community and increase diversity. However the aforementioned activity has been undertaken in covert co-ordination with the UFWD, with funding provided by foreign nationals located in China and Hong Kong.

"Lee has extensive engagement with individuals across the UK political spectrum, including through the now disbanded All-Party Parliamentary Chinese in Britain Group, and may aspire to establish further APPGs to further the CCP's agenda."

Iain Duncan Smith raised the issue of a Chinese agent in Parliament
Iain Duncan Smith raised the issue of a Chinese agent in Parliament. Picture: Alamy

In a statement, Mr Gardiner said: "I have been liaising with our Security Services for a number of years about Christine Lee and they have always known, and been made fully aware by me, of her engagement with my office and the donations she made to fund researchers in my office in the past.

"Steps were taken to ensure Christine Lee had no role in either the appointment or management of those researchers. They are also aware that I have not benefitted personally from those donations in any way. She ceased funding any workers in my office in June 2020.

"All the donations were properly reported in the register of members’ interests and their source verified at the time. I have been assured by the Security Services that whilst they have definitively identified improper funding channelled through Christine Lee, this does not relate to any funding received by my office.

"Christine Lee's son volunteered in my office many years ago and was subsequently employed by me as a diary manager. He resigned from my employment earlier today. The Security Services have advised me that they have no intelligence that shows he was aware of, or complicit in, his mother's illegal activity.

"I will continue to work closely with our security services in this and all other matters that relate to the security of our country."

Home Secretary Priti Patel said that "proportionate action is always taken to mitigate these threats, thanks to our world-leading intelligence and security agencies".

"Forthcoming measures to counter these kind of threats will build on the robust safeguards already in place, making our country even harder for states to conduct hostile activity in," she added.

Tory MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who is part of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a combination of lawmakers from democratic states which focuses on the Asian state, spoke to LBC about how much worry the security issue caused him.

He was especially worried about Hong Kong-Chinese people he was helping to flee from the special administrative region as Beijing tightens its grip.

Speaking to LBC's Shelagh Fogarty, he said: "I'm really genuinely, genuinely concerned because... some of the lives and family lives of those that we've been helping support could, for all I know, be at risk now as a result of this infiltration."

He has said that he wants "a statement from the Government".

And speaking earlier in the Commons, he said he understood "there has been an agent of the Chinese government active here in Parliament working with a Member of Parliament, obviously to subvert the processes here".

"I say, as a Member of Parliament who has been sanctioned by the Chinese government, that this is a matter of grave concern," he added, asking if accreditation procedures in the Commons would get an overhaul in light of the revelation.

Sir Iain went on: "I understand that the latest news I hear is that this individual is not to be deported and no further action to be taken," he said.

"How can it be that an agent of a foreign despotic and despicable power that is hellbent on reducing many of those people into penury, it seems - how can they put somebody into Parliament - this mother of Parliaments - and then that individual have nothing done to them other than they're not allowed in Parliament.

"This is surely not good enough."

This story is being updated