Rishi Sunak confronts Chinese premier at G20 after 'spy in Parliament' arrest

10 September 2023, 09:34 | Updated: 10 September 2023, 10:48

Rishi Sunak has warned the Chinese premier of his "significant concerns" about Beijing&squot;s interference in democracy
Rishi Sunak has warned the Chinese premier of his "significant concerns" about Beijing's interference in democracy. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Rishi Sunak has warned the Chinese premier of his "significant concerns" about Beijing's interference in democracy after the arrest of a parliamentary researcher on suspicion of spying.

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Mr Sunak met Li Qiang at the G20 summit in New Delhi on Sunday, hours after news of two arrests in the UK under the Official Secrets Act emerged.

One is a researcher who has had links to several senior Tory MPs, including security minister Tom Tugendhat and foreign affairs committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns, according to the Times.

The researcher is said to have visited and lived in China in the past and the individuals linked to them have access to "classified or highly sensitive information".

Read More: Rishi Sunak 'confident' over trade deal between UK and India following talks with Narendra Modi at G20 summit

It has been suggested that the man could have been recruited as a sleeper agent during his time in China and sent back to the UK to infiltrate.

The Briton was arrested along with another man by officers on March 13 on suspicion of spying for Beijing.

Mr Sunak met Mr Li on the margins of the G20 summit on Sunday morning.

A No10 spokesman said: "The Prime Minister met Premier Li Qiang and conveyed his significant concerns about Chinese interference in the UK's parliamentary democracy."

Mr Sunak said his confrontation with Mr Li over the "obviously unacceptable" allegations was an example of the benefits of engagement rather than "shouting from the sidelines".

He said: "Well, I obviously can't comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation but, with regard to my meeting with Premier Li, what I said very specifically is that I raised a range of different concerns that we have in areas of disagreement, and in particular my very strong concerns about any interference in our parliamentary democracy, which is obviously unacceptable.

"And, actually, I think the right thing to do is take the opportunity to engage to raise concerns specifically, rather than just shouting from the sidelines."

Cabinet Meeting in Downing Street
The man, who is reportedly in his 20s, is said to have connections to security minister Tom Tugendhat. Picture: Getty

A senior Whitehall source told The Times that the situation is a "major escalation" by China, adding that the country has "never seen anything like this before".

Scotland Yard said in a statement: "Officers from the Metropolitan Police arrested two men on March 13 on suspicion of offences under section one of the Official Secrets Act 1911.

"A man in his thirties was arrested at an address in Oxfordshire and a man in his twenties was arrested at an address in Edinburgh. Searches were also carried out at both the residential properties, as well as at a third address in east London.

"Both men were taken to a south London police station and were released on police bail until a date in early October."

Last year, MI5 issued a rare security alert, warning MPs that a suspected Chinese spy called Christine Lee had engaged in "political interference activities" on behalf of China's ruling communist regime.

Labour MP Barry Gardiner, the former chairman of the now disbanded Chinese in Britain APPG, received more than £500,000 in donations from her before the warning.

The Official Secret Act was the framework under which the man, one of two arrested, was collared by the police on March 13. Picture: Getty

The arrests emerged a little over a week after Foreign Secretary James Cleverly visited Beijing amid criticism from some senior Conservatives, who are critics of China.

He insisted the UK would have a "pragmatic" relationship with China to tackle major global issues such as climate change.

Downing Street said it does not comment on security matters. The House of Commons has been contacted.

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