The story sounds like something out of a Hollywood film: a Chinese spy is said to have tried to influence British parliamentarians. The woman had been politically active for years, she was even awarded a medal.
The British domestic intelligence service has warned Parliament in London of an alleged Chinese spy. The office of Speaker of the British House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle confirmed on Thursday that it had emailed MPs about the incident “in consultation with the security services”. According to Home Secretary Priti Patel, one person tried to influence parliamentarians “for the Chinese Communist Party”.
According to Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, Hoyle was “contacted by MI5”. He warned MPs that an “agent of the Chinese government was active in parliament.”
The alert issued by MI5, quoted by UK media, identifies the suspected agent as Christine Lee. It said it “knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the United Front Labor Department of the Chinese Communist Party.”
According to the reports, the London-based lawyer played a facilitating role in “financial contributions to political parties, parliamentarians, prospective parliamentarians and those contemplating political office in the UK”. Lee is said to have donated £200,000 (€239,000) to opposition politician Barry Gardiner and hundreds of thousands more to his Labor Party. The money came from foreign nationals from China and Hong Kong.
Lee was apparently well connected in the London government district. She was photographed with former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron at an event in 2015, and on another occasion with former Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn. In 2019, Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May awarded Lee a medal for her contribution to Britain’s good relations with China.
The Chinese embassy in London denied the espionage allegations and said: “We must and will never try to buy influence in a foreign parliament”. She added: “We firmly reject defamation and intimidation of the Chinese community in the UK.”
Barry Gardiner, who has since resigned, stated that all donations had been properly reported. He also explained that Lee’s son worked for him until his resignation on Thursday.
Conservative MP Duncan Smith has expressed concern that Lee will not be arrested, only prevented from entering Parliament. He also called for a revision of the rules for parliamentary accreditation. Former Defense Secretary Tobias Ellwood said in the House of Commons that the allegations were “the kind of meddling in a gray area that we now expect from China.”