'A Chinese spy in Parliament could be a huge own goal by Beijing,' says Andrew Marr

11 September 2023, 18:38 | Updated: 11 September 2023, 18:39

Andrew Marr on Monday
Andrew Marr on Monday. Picture: LBC

By Kit Heren

If the Parliamentary researcher accused of being a Chinese spy is truly undercover, this could be a "huge own goal" by Beijing, Andrew Marr has claimed.

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Speaking on LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr on Wednesday, the presenter said that the revelations may have caused the British government and opposition to strengthen their resolve towards China.

It comes after it emerged that a researcher for Conservative MPs was arrested on suspicion of spying on behalf of the Chinese government in March. He denies the allegation.

Andrew said: "It's been hoo-hah Monday at Westminster, the hoo-hah in question being about the arrest of an alleged Chinese spy who had been working with prominent Tory MPs including China hawks such as - get this - the man who became security minister, Tom Tugendhat and chair of the foreign affairs committee Alicia Kearns.

"The arrested man, a Conservative researcher who also tried to date a Sun reporter, put out a statement today declaring that 'I am completely innocent. I have spent my career to date trying to educate others about the challenge and threats presented by the Chinese Communist Party.'

Read more: Suspected Chinese spy found working in Parliament - with link to senior Government figures Tugendhat and Kearns

Read more: Tory parliamentary researcher accused of spying for China says he’s 'completely innocent'

Tonight with Andrew Marr mono 11/09

"What's the truth?

"We just don't know and MPs were warned today not to discuss details of the case in Parliament - but if this gregarious and well-connected man was a Chinese spy then this is a level of penetration of the British establishment almost as serious as - well, the notorious East German Stasi spy who got himself appointed personal assistant to the German Chancellor in the Cold War days.

"That affair, in 1974, led to the resignation of Willy Brandt as head of the German government. Where will this lead?"

Andrew added: "This afternoon, it struck me that perhaps Chinese intelligence has been responsible for a huge own goal. In the Commons, The cabinet minister Oliver Dowden sounded more hostile about Chinese influence than I can remember from the front bench for some time.

"And in response, Labour's Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, was both supportive and steely.

"Is it possible that by targeting Parliament, the Chinese have finally persuaded the political class to get to their fingers out about the wider issue of Chinese influence? Because the much bigger story is how deeply communist China is dug in right across our society, in the technology we use, our energy, our research universities and high tech business.

"Here's part of the conclusions of Parliament’s Intelligence and security committee, published just a couple of months ago: 'It is China’s global ambition to become a technological and economic superpower, on which other countries are reliant, that represents the greatest risk to the UK. China’s state intelligence apparatus – almost certainly the largest in the world, with hundreds of thousands of civil intelligence officers – targets the UK and its interests prolifically and aggressively, and presents a challenge to our agencies.'

"China, they said, had penetrated every aspect of the British economy, and presented an existential challenge to liberal democracy."

"The government's response had been 'completely inadequate'. 'Without swift and decisive action we're on a trajectory for the nightmare scenario where China steals blueprints, set standards and builds products, exerting a political and economic influence at every step.'

"Dowden listed all the things the government has been doing, from stripping Huawei out of Communications systems to the Tiktok ban for MPs and the closure of undercover Chinese police stations in Britain. But the question is, how far can we really go?

"China is such a powerful trading partner, our fourth largest, selling us such a lot of the high-tech kit we use in everyday life that it’s becoming increasingly hard to see how we can fight back. You can't get other societies to do your hard work, and build the stuff you depend upon, without also handing them, in due course, the whip hand.

"So if you’ve ever wondered about the weird argument among British politicians about whether China is a threat… or a partner… or a challenge; that uneasiness about plain-speaking is good evidence of the depth of the problem we are in. Are we already, to put this brutally, half-digested?"