MI5 warns Chinese 'spy' has been active in Parliament

·7-min read
Christine Lee
Christine Lee

MI5 has warned a suspected agent of the Chinese government has been active in the British Parliament, MPs have heard.

Conservative former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, raising a point of order, told the Commons: "I understand that Mr Speaker has been contacted by MI5 and is now warning members of Parliament that 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."

An MI5 notice named the suspected agent as Christine Lee, who the security service claims is "knowingly engaged in political interference on behalf of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)".

Her affiliations are said to include the China Overseas Friendship Association and the British-Chinese Project and she is listed as a donor for Labour MP Barry Gardiner.

Lee's son volunteered in the MP for Brent North's office a number of years ago and was subsequently employed as his diary manager.

He resigned earlier on Thursday, Mr Gardiner announced.

The security service claim Christine Lee "acted covertly" and is "judged to be involved in political interference activities in the UK".

Christine Lee outside 10 Downing Street
Christine Lee outside 10 Downing Street

The warning continues: "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".

It has also emerged that Theresa May, when prime minister, gave a "Points of Light" award for volunteering to Ms Lee.

Mrs May wrote a personal letter to Ms Lee commending her for “promoting engagement, understanding, and cooperation between the Chinese and British communities in the UK”.

Ms Lee said at the time of receiving the award, in January 2019: "The well-being of the British Chinese community in the UK will always be of great importance to me and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to assist in any small way with our integration into UK society."

The revelation on Thursday sparked surprise, given that concerns about Ms Lee's links to Mr Gardiner were first reported by The Times in 2017.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former Tory leader, told The Telegraph: “Why wasn’t she [Mrs May] informed of this [concern] by the security services? This must have been around. What was going on with the security services that the Prime Minister's office didn't know they were giving an award to someone under suspicion?".

The Speaker's office has confirmed that a warning notice has been issued in relation to the activities of a suspected Chinese agent.

Christine Lee 'engaged in political interference'

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, in a letter sent to MPs, warned that Christine Lee had allegedly been "engaged in political interference" for the Chinese Communist Party and sought to lobby parliamentarians including through a former all-party parliamentary group (APPG).

The letter said: "I am writing now to draw your attention to the attached Interference Alert issued by the Security Service, MI5, about the activities of an individual, Christine Lee, who has been engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, engaging with Members here at Parliament and associated political entities, including the former APPG: Chinese in Britain.

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

"I would also like to take this opportunity to remind colleagues of their responsibilities to verify the source of any donation they receive to ascertain whether it is from a permissible source, and their obligation to record the source of donations in the Register of Interests, or report to the Electoral Commission as appropriate."

The letter urged MPs to report any approaches or concerns and said the Lord Speaker had also written to peers to warn them.

Christine Lee pictured with former prime minister David Cameron
Christine Lee pictured with former prime minister David Cameron

A spokeswoman for the Speaker's office said: "The Speaker takes the security of Members and the democratic process very seriously, which is why he issued this notice in consultation with the security services.

"There is no further comment on this matter."

Tory MP Bob Seely, who is a member of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed concern that a Chinese agent appeared to have been operating in Parliament.

"It's clearly serious that there appear to be actual agents of a foreign, adversarial power in Parliament. I congratulate MI5 on their work," he told the PA news agency.

"However, I do fear that we have been complacent about the threat posed by the Chinese Communist regime, in much the same way that we were and in some respects still are complacent about Russian influence peddling in the UK.

"We should remember that co-opting, subverting and corrupting in today's world is often done not through formal agents, but often through informal agents: people such as powerful business people and oligarchs, think tanks, through the funding of universities and the use of 'lawfare', etc.

"This is why we need a comprehensive approach to Russia and China that understands the comprehensive nature of the problem. We are improving but we need to do more."

Barry Gardiner statement, in full

Today the Parliamentary Security Director issued a Security Service Interference Alert in relation to Christine Lee and her attempts to engage in political interference on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

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 benefited 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.

What did the MI5 warning say?

The Security Service Interference Alert, regarding Christine Ching Kui Lee and issued by MI5, said Lee has "acted covertly" in co-ordination with the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and is "judged to be involved in political interference activities in the UK".

The warning issued by MI5
The warning issued by MI5

It said: "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 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."

The alert warned 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".

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