The interior minister said it was likely that there would be more national security alerts like the one being issued about a Chinese spy involved in “political interference activities” on behalf of the ruling Communist Party.
Priti Patel said Britain had “other opponents” who “would try to interfere or invade our country in any way” after it was revealed that a senior Labor MP received more than £500,000 in donations from Christine Ching Kui Lee had received a warning before MI5 was issued that she was a Chinese agent.
Barry Gardiner received the donations – mostly to help pay for his office’s staff – over a six-year period and hired her son as a scheduler.
While Labor Central said it received about £5,000.
The revelations come after MI5 took the rare step of warning MPs and colleagues about Lee’s cultivating of British politicians in order to secure a “British political landscape” that was “favorable” to China.
Ms Patel said it was “deeply concerning” that the Chinese Communist Party had targeted British parliamentarians.
In a statement, Mr Gardiner, who was a member of the shadow cabinet under former Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, said he had been in touch with the security services for a number of years through his contacts with Lee, who runs a law firm in central London.
“You have always been aware of her commitment to my office and the donations she has made in the past to fund researchers in my office, and have had my full attention to that,” he said.
“I have been assured by security services that while they have clearly identified improper funding by Christine Lee, this has nothing to do with funding received from my office.”
While Ms Patel warned tougher laws were needed as the activity was “below the criminal threshold”.
She said: “We’re big players internationally, the UK, our place in the world is very strong. And so, of course, we are an interesting country. I think it’s fair to say that we will see more warnings of this nature in the future.”
She added: “And of course, as I said before, we’re working to look at what steps we can take to strengthen our laws, our legislations, to effectively lead to the kind of prosecutions that we’re not doing right now be able.”
Former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who was involved in helping Hong Kong Chinese flee the Communist regime, expressed concern they may now be at risk from Lee’s activities.
In the Security Service Interference Alert (SSIA) sent to MPs and colleagues, MI5 said Lee was “acting covertly” in coordination with the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) United Front Work Department (UFWD).
“The UFWD tries to cultivate relationships with influential figures to ensure that the British political landscape is positive about the CCP’s agenda and to challenge those who raise concerns about CCP activities, such as human rights,” she said .
“Lee is committed to facilitating financial donations to political parties, MPs, prospective MPs and individuals seeking political office in the UK, including facilitating donations to political bodies on behalf of non-residents.”
In an accompanying letter, Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle said they included donations from politicians in China and Hong Kong, and that among the targets was the now defunct British All-Party Chinese Parliamentary Group (APPG), of which Mr Gardiner is the chairman.
Analysis of the Register of Members’ Financial Interests by the PA news agency revealed that Lee has donated more than £500,000 to Mr Gardiner between 2015 and 2020, mostly through funding 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 Democrat dinner to support the party’s then-candidate for Somerton and Frome, Sarah Yong.
In 2008 it funded flights for a four-day trip to Beijing for then Labor MP for Hendon, Andrew Dismore, who was then leader of the Chinese in Britain APPG.
In his statement, Mr. Gardiner said steps have been taken to ensure Lee has no role in appointing or managing the researchers she funds and stopped funding staff at his office in June 2020.
He said Lee’s son volunteered at his office “many years ago” and was subsequently employed as a diary manager until he abruptly resigned on Thursday.
“The security services have informed me that they have no information showing that he knew about or participated in his mother’s illegal activities,” he said.
Speaking on Sky News, he added he only found out Lee was a “spy” involved in “illegal activities” when he was approached by security officials on Thursday.
He said: “This morning they have made it clear that she has attempted to subordinate and influence all political parties here in Parliament and they believe she has done so illegally.”
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said Sir Ed was “shocked” by the SSIA, which for the first time gave him cause for concern about the donation to his local party branch.
There was no response from Lee, who is a prominent figure in the Chinese community and whose law firm serves as legal counsel to the Chinese Embassy in London.