A review is to be held into how a suspected Chinese agent was able to get so close to senior British politicians, security minister Damian Hinds has said.
MI5 has taken the rare step of circulating a warning to MPs that Christine Lee – a prominent London-based solicitor – has been engaged in “political interference activities” on behalf of China’s ruling communist regime.
The Chinese Embassy rejected the claims, accusing the authorities of “smearing and intimidation” against the Chinese community in the UK, while a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said the British are “too obsessed with James Bond 007 movies”.
However, Mr Hinds said the security services have been aware of Lee’s activities – including channelling funds to British politicians in an attempt to secure influence – for “some time”.
“Of course, that’s a concern,” he told Sky News. “But this is an example of our system working, this is our world-leading intelligence and security services discovering this and finding a way to disrupt it.”
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed the claims, accusing the UK Government of making “groundless allegations and hyping the China threat” to serve its own purposes.
“It is highly irresponsible to make sensational remarks based on hearsay evidence and certain individual’s conjecture,” he said.
Among those to accept donations from Lee is the senior Labour MP Barry Gardiner, who received more than £500,000 over six years to cover staffing costs in his office as well as employing her son as his diary manager.
Lee also received an award from Theresa May when she was prime minister, for her work on a project promoting good relations between the Chinese and British communities in the UK, and was a VIP guest when David Cameron hosted President Xi Jinping in London.
Asked if there will now be a review of how she operated for so long, Mr Hinds told LBC: “Yes. We’re learning all the time, all the implications, of course, have to be able to be taken into account.”
In the Security Service Interference Alert (SSIA) sent to MPs and peers, MI5 said Lee “acted covertly” in co-ordination with the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
It said she had 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”.
Following the disclosure, Mr Gardiner said he had liaised with the security services for many years regarding his contacts with Lee but had only learned on Thursday that she had been engaged in “illegal activity”.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in London denied the claims of political interference.
“China always adheres to the principle of non-interference in other country’s internal affairs,” the statement said.
“We have no need and never seek to ‘buy influence’ in any foreign parliament. We firmly oppose the trick of smearing and intimidation against the Chinese community in the UK.”