The Home Secretary has said it is likely there will be more national security alerts like that issued over a Chinese spy engaged in “political interference activities” on behalf of the ruling communist party.
Priti Patel said the UK had “other adversaries” who would “look to interfere or come into our country in some shape and way” after it was revealed a senior Labour MP received more than £500,000 in donations from Christine Ching Kui Lee before MI5 issued a warning she was a Chinese agent.
Barry Gardiner received the donations – mainly to cover staffing costs in his office – over a period of six years, and employed her son as his diary manager.
While The Labour Party said centrally it had received some £5,000.
The disclosures came after MI5 took the rare step of issuing MPs and peers with a warning about Lee’s cultivating of British politicians to secure a “UK political landscape” that was “favourable” to China.
Ms Patel said it is “deeply concerning” the Chinese Communist Party was targeting British parliamentarians.
In a statement, Mr Gardiner, who was a member of the shadow cabinet under former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, said he had been liaising with the security services for a number of years about his contacts with Lee, who runs a law firm in central London.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
While Ms Patel warned stronger laws were needed as the activity was “under the criminal threshold”.
She said: “We are big players internationally, the United Kingdom, our place in the world is very strong. And so we’re naturally a country of interest. I think it’s fair to say in the future, we’ll see more alerts of this nature.”
She added: “And, of course, as I’ve said, we are working to look at what measures we can take to strengthen our laws, our legislations, to effectively lead to the type of prosecutions that we currently cannot deliver.”
Former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who has been involved in helping Hong Kong-Chinese people flee the communist regime, expressed concern they could now be at risk as a result of Lee’s activities.
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).
“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,” 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.”
In an accompanying letter, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said they included donations from politicians in China and Hong Kong, and that among those targeted was the now disbanded Chinese in Britain all party parliamentary group (APPG), which Mr Gardiner chaired.
Analysis of the Register of Members’ Financial Interests by the PA news agency showed Lee donated more than £500,000 to Mr Gardiner between 2015 and 2020, mostly through funding for his 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.
In 2013, she funded flights for a four-day trip to Beijing for then Labour MP for Hendon, Andrew Dismore, who was then chairman of the Chinese in Britain APPG.
In his statement, Mr Gardiner said steps were taken to ensure Lee had no role in either the appointment or management of the researchers she bankrolled and had ceased funding any workers in his office in June 2020.
He said Lee’s son had volunteered in his office “many years ago” and was subsequently employed as a diary manager until he resigned abruptly on Thursday.
“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,” he said.
Speaking on Sky News he added he only found out Lee was a “spy” who was engaged in “illegal activity” when approached by security officials on Thursday.
He said: “This morning they made it clear that she had been trying to insinuate and influence across all political parties here in Parliament and that they believed she had been doing this illegally.”
A spokesman for the Liberal Democrats said Sir Ed was “shocked” by the SSIA which was the first time he has been given cause to be concerned about the donation to his local party association.
There was no response from Lee, who is a prominent figure in the Chinese community and whose law firm acts as a legal adviser to the Chinese embassy in London.
In the Commons, Sir Iain called for an overhaul of Parliament’s accreditation procedures amid fears that details of people he had helped could be compromised.
“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.”