Sunday, January 16, 2022

Barry Gardiner: Labor MP who received money from ‘Chinese agent’

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Former Shadow Cabinet Minister Barry Gardiner, who received hundreds of thousands of pounds from a suspected Chinese government agent, said he was “deeply dismayed” to learn that one of his biggest donors had illegally attempted to influence British politicians.

The Brent North MP received more than £500,000 over six years from Christine Lee, who is now accused of being an employee of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department. However, Mr Gardiner insists that Ms Lee “did not obtain any political advantage for the Chinese state from me”.

The link between Mr Gardiner and Ms Lee – a Chinese lawyer whose firm in central London acts as legal adviser to the capital’s Chinese embassy – was first reported in 2017. But she was thrust into the spotlight on Thursday when Ms Lee was accused by intelligence agency MI5 of covert “political interference”.

During his career, Mr. Gardiner has held a number of ministerial and shadow cabinet roles. After serving as junior secretary in Tony Blair’s government, he became shadow energy secretary under Jeremy Corbyn in 2015.

After a series of shadow Cabinet resignations in June 2015, Mr Gardiner was promoted to replace Lisa Nandy as shadow energy secretary before eventually taking on the role of shadow trade secretary, a role he remained in until 2020 when Sir Keir Starmer became leader of the opposition.

Since rejoining the backbenches of Labour, Mr Gardiner has kept a fairly low profile, making headlines in the summer of 2020 when he broke Covid social distancing guidelines to join thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters outside Parliament .

Mr Gardiner defended his actions at the time after facing criticism from colleagues including Ms Nandy – now the secretary of the Shadow Level – and current Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, saying he felt between his desire to “set an example” in the Conflict coronavirus measures and also ‘call out racial injustice’.

While Mr Gardiner, who is originally from Glasgow and is married to his wife Caroline Anne Smith, has repeatedly insisted Ms Lee got “a very bad investment” out of the donations she gave him, critics are at odds some details of the couple’s relationship uncertain.

One such anomaly is the fact that Ms. Lee’s son, Daniel Wilkes, was employed by Mr. Gardiner as his diary manager until this morning. In an interview with Sky News on Thursday, the Labor MP said that when he found out about Ms Lee’s status he “immediately contacted her son… and I asked him to tender his resignation forthwith, which he did”.

During the same interview, he assured viewers that he had been “open and honest” with security services about his engagement to Ms. Lee for a number of years. The Labor MP added that he had been told by the same security services that they had “absolutely no evidence” that the money his office received came from the Chinese state. He admitted he had discussed labor policy with the Chinese agent, but insisted it was never “very detailed”.

Since news broke about Ms Lee on Thursday, Mr Gardiner has also sought to highlight his past criticism of the Chinese government, such as over climate change and human rights concerns.

That didn’t stop some commenters from branding him a “complete idiot” for his professional relationship with Ms. Lee.

But he is by no means alone in Westminster because he has ties to the alleged Chinese agent. Ms Lee was praised by then Prime Minister Theresa May for “encouraging engagement, understanding and cooperation between the Chinese and British communities”. She was also pictured with David Cameron and former Labor MP Tom Watson.

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