Voices: Not even the assistance of a superpower was enough to get Barry Gardiner to the table

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  • Barry Gardiner
    British politician (born 1957)
I’ve no idea what on earth Barry thought he was doing (PA Media)
I’ve no idea what on earth Barry thought he was doing (PA Media)

At the risk of sounding unkind, if I were the head of the Chinese secret service (I know what you’re thinking, but I only just missed out to a guy who was a Communist), I’d be a bit peeved that Agent Christine Lee had spaffed some £500,000 on trying to influence Barry Gardiner.

Yes, he was friends with Jeremy Corbyn. Yes, he was the shadow international secretary. Yes, he was a bit of a regular on Radio 4’s Any Questions? But an agent of influence? An agent of anything? I’d not be quite sure he’d have been great value for the People’s Republic (nor the British taxpayer, but that’s really harsh).

Maybe Ms Lee and the gerontocrats of Beijing reckoned he’d be in power pretty soon. He certainly did, but it turns out that not even the assistance of a superpower was enough to get Barry to the cabinet table.

I’ve no idea what on earth Barry thought he was doing either, employing Agent Lee’s lad in the office and taking all that money. For the sake of fairness I should put Barry’s side of the story, as follows: “They [MI5] 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.

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.”

And, equally fairly, it has to be said he’s not alone in his acquaintance with Ms Lee. Ms Lee’s firm also donated £5,000 to the Liberal Democrats in 2005, plus and £5,000 to Ed Davey when he was a minister in the Con-Lib coalition (and a perverse compliment to the Libs, who’ve rarely been given a second glance by foreign powers).

It’s not all Gardiner and Davey. Ms Lee aimed super high as well, with a reportedly good relationship with David Cameron. In 2019, Lee received a Points of Light Award from then premier Theresa May, in recognition of her contribution to good relations with China via the British Chinese Project. You could call them that, yes.

Apparently according to Speaker Hoyle, Ms Lee contacted members of the Chinese in Britain All Party Parliamentary Group – now defunct. Chaired by Gardiner, other members of the group included Labour’s Keith Vaz, Stephen Pound, Faisal Rashid and Gareth Thomas – along with Tory David Morris.

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Still more intriguing, politically, is this caution from Hoyle: “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 should hope so, too. But who’s been getting these secret bungs, naturally not declared in the Register of Interests? MI5 must know. Will there be prosecutions? Will there be disclosure? Will there be resignations? Trials? by-elections?

It may well be cross-party. It will be like the MPs’ expenses scandal, but even more exciting – the MPs’ espionage scandal. It’d be interesting to see where China’s money ended up. I imagine there was more than the odd duck house at stake.

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