MI5 has warned an agent of the Chinese government has been active in the British Parliament, MPs have heard.
The Speaker’s office confirmed that a warning notice has been issued in relation to the activities of a suspected Chinese agent.
The Security Service Interference Alert regarding Christine Ching Kui Lee said: “The purpose of this Security Service Interference Alert is to draw attention to an individual knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party.”
It said Lee has “acted covertly in co-ordination with the UFWD and is judged to be involved in political interference activities in the UK”.
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.”
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”.
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.”
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, in a letter sent to MPs and seen by the PA news agency, warned that Christine Lee had 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.
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”.
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”.
Brent North Labour MP Barry Gardiner, who has received donations from Christine 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.”
He 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.”
Gardiner said Christine Lee’s son, who had been employed as his diary manager, resigned earlier on Thursday.
Analysis of the Register of Members’ Financial Interests showed Christine Lee donated more than £500,000 to Gardiner between 2015 and 2020, mostly through funding for his staff.
She also donated £5000 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 2013 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.