A Labour MP accepted more than £425,000 in donations from a Chinese spy, it emerged on Thursday, prompting demands for an urgent probe into her links with Westminster.
MI5 issued an interference alert to MPs about the activities of Christine Lee, a Chinese national who has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to Barry Gardiner, a former shadow cabinet minister. She first began making financial contributions to British politicians 17 years ago.
The Electoral Commission vowed to “undertake further checks” on the permissibility of the payments by Ms Lee, through her law firm Christine Lee & Co, to MPs and local parties. The regulator told The Telegraph that it would consider enforcement action if evidence emerged of breaches to political finance rules.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker of the House of Commons, sent out the security alert and said Ms Lee “has been engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party” (CCP), targeting MPs and associated political entities, including a former all-party group on the Chinese community in Britain.
He also disclosed that she had facilitated covert donations to serving and aspiring parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China. Her involvement, intended to mask the true origins of the payments, “is clearly unacceptable behaviour and steps are being taken to ensure it ceases”, said Sir Lindsay.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, will make a statement to the Commons on Friday on the affair. On Thursday, she branded it “deeply concerning” that MPs had been targeted by an individual acting on behalf of the CCP, but warned there were likely to be more security alerts about agents of foreign regimes in future.
It emerged that Mr Gardiner had employed Ms Lee’s son as a diary manager in his parliamentary office, until the staffer resigned on Thursday. The role entitled him to a pass to roam around Parliament.
Mr Gardiner said that he had spoken with Ms Lee as recently as this week and when asked by Sky News whether he ever discussed policy with her, said: “Not in great detail.”
Mr Gardiner later told LBC Radio that Ms Lee would seek his view on “who was up and who was down in [British] politics”.
In a statement, the MP said that he had been “liaising with our security services for a number of years” about Ms Lee and had correctly reported all her donations, which ended in June 2020. He said the money was used to fund researchers, which she had no role in appointing or managing.
Mr Gardiner has previously spoken favourably about Chinese politicians, policies and the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in Somerset, which has been developed with investment from a Chinese state energy giant.
The Labour Party said it had centrally accepted £5,000 from Ms Lee, while she gave the same amount to Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey’s local party in 2013, when he was energy secretary.
The Telegraph understands that she has been under an MI5 investigation for at least five years. She was under surveillance when Theresa May honoured her with an award for services to the Chinese community in the UK in 2019. The revelation prompted questions about why Mrs May was not warned by MI5 against extending the prize to Ms Lee. The award was rescinded on Thursday.
Photos also emerged of the Chinese spy talking in 2015 with David Cameron, the prime minister at the time, at a leadership and diversity awards ceremony.
Tobias Ellwood, the Tory chairman of the Commons defence select committee, called for an urgent probe into Ms Lee’s activities, saying: “It needs to be thoroughly investigated by the Intelligence and Security Committee… This is an example of us waking up to what China’s wider strategic ambitions are in furthering its sway on the international stage.”
Foreign Office officials have raised concerns with the Chinese ambassador.
China denied the allegations late on Thursday night, saying it had “no need” to “buy influence” in any foreign parliament.
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