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MI5 has issued a warning to MPs about a Chinese agent it claims is covertly engaging in “political interference activities” in the UK on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.
Christine Ching Kui Lee is alleged to have engaged with MPs while facilitating financial donations from politicians in Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “I know it will be deeply concerning to many that an individual who has knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party has targeted parliamentarians.”
But she insisted the UK has “strong structures” in place to identify foreign interference and “where necessary, proportionate action is always taken to mitigate these threats, thanks to our world-leading intelligence and security agencies”.
Details are contained in a Security Service Interference Alert (SSIA) circulated to parliamentarians by Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
In a covering letter, Sir Lindsay said the MPs she contacted included members of the now disbanded Chinese in Britain All Party Parliamentary Group.
“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,” he wrote.
“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.”
The SSIA issued by MI5 said Lee had “acted covertly” in co-ordination with the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“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,” it said.
“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.”
Brent North Labour MP Barry Gardiner, who has received donations from Lee in the past, said he had been “liaising with our security services” for many years about her.
In a statement, he said: “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.”
Analysis of the Register of Members’ Financial Interests showed Lee donated more than £500,000 to Mr Gardiner and Labour between 2015 and 2020, mostly through funding for Mr Gardiner’s staff.
She also donated £5,000 to Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey in 2013, and in 2014 she helped sponsor a Chinese Liberal Democrats dinner to support the party’s then candidate for Somerton and Frome, Sarah Yong.
The register showed that in 2008 she funded flights for a four-day trip to Beijing for then Labour MP for Hendon Andrew Dismore, in his role as chairman of the Chinese in Britain APPG.
Mr Gardiner said all the donations were properly reported and “their source verified at the time”, and added: “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.”
Mr Gardiner, the former chairman of the Chinese in Britain APPG, also said he had employed Lee’s son as his diary manager until he abruptly resigned earlier on Thursday.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
While a spokesman for the Liberal Democrats said: “Ed is shocked by these revelations and the email from the Speaker of the House of Commons today was the first time he has been given cause to be concerned about a donation to his local party association, received in 2013.
“The Government must make it a national security priority to protect the UK’s democracy from threats and interference by foreign actors.
“This donation was reported properly and all rules and guidance was followed – as Ed expects is the case with donations made to colleagues across the House.”
In the Commons, former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said Lee’s activities were “a matter of grave concern” and called for an overhaul of Parliament’s accreditation procedures.
He said he had been involved in helping Hong Kong-Chinese people flee the communist regime and expressed concern they could now be at risk.
“We have names and numbers of people, and that leaves me worrying that some of these have been accessed by such an individual,” he said.
“These will be their lives and families at risk and I am deeply concerned about this because my activities therefore may well have therefore been traced, as those as well from my colleagues and friends.”
Tory MP Bob Seely, a member of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said there needs to be a “comprehensive approach” to the threat posed by China and also by Russia.
He told the PA news agency: “It’s clearly serious that there appear to be actual agents of a foreign, adversarial power in Parliament. I congratulate MI5 on their work.
“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.”
Ms Patel said extra measures are being brought in to make the UK “even harder for states to conduct hostile activity in”.