MI5 unmasks Chinese ‘agent’ on mission to influence UK politicians
Hans van Leeuwen
London | British intelligence agency MI5 has publicly identified a London-based solicitor, Christine Lee, as a Chinese Communist Party agent carrying out political interference operations in Britain’s parliament.
In an “interference alert” sent to MPs and members of the House of Lords, MI5 said Ms Lee worked on behalf of the CCP’s United Front Work Department to peddle influence and facilitate donations.
Ms Lee allegedly bankrolled the salary of two staffers in the office of former shadow cabinet minister Barry Gardiner, one of whom was her son, with donations to the MP and his Labour Party reportedly totalling almost $1.3 million.
Seeking influence ... MI5 has publicly outed a suspected Chinese agent. AP
Photographs in British media reports showed Ms Lee talking to former prime minister David Cameron and former opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.
MI5 said the UFWD’s mission was “to covertly interfere in UK politics through establishing links with established and aspiring parliamentarians across the political spectrum”.
The aim was 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”.
‘A matter of grave concern’
MI5 said Ms Lee had cultivated relationships with MPs and had facilitated donations that ultimately, and covertly, came from foreign nationals based in China and Hong Kong.
The incident has echoes of similar events in Australia in 2017-19, which culminated in the politically well-connected Chinese businessman and party donor Huang Xiangmo having his visa cancelled on suspicion that he was working on behalf of the UFWD.
Former Conservative Party leader and outspoken China hawk Iain Duncan Smith said he was urgently seeking more information from the government.
“As a Member of Parliament who has been sanctioned by the Chinese government, this is a matter of grave concern that there has been an agent of the Chinese government active here in Parliament working with MPs to subvert the processes here,” he tweeted.
Home Secretary Priti Patel promised fresh “measures to counter these kinds of threats”, which would “make our country even harder for states to conduct hostile activity in”.
Ms Lee’s eponymous law firm carries out legal work for the Chinese embassy in London, and she belongs to the China Overseas Friendship Association, a UFWD-affiliated body.
She has also worked for a campaign called the British-Chinese Project, for which she won an award from former prime minister Theresa May three years ago.
The office of Christine Lee’s law firm in London’s Soho district. Getty
Ms May’s former chief of staff, Nick Timothy, on Thursday called for “an inquiry into the influence of China and its agents within our public institutions, strategically important businesses, and politics”.
Ms Lee remains under security service investigation but has not been arrested.
Mr Gardiner, who was shadow trade minister under Mr Corbyn, said he had been liaising with the security services for some time about Ms Lee’s activities.
“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,” he said in a statement.
Ms Lee’s son, who worked as Mr Gardiner’s diary manager, resigned on Thursday. The MP said that MI5 had no intelligence implicating his staffer in Ms Lee’s activities, and that Ms Lee had not funded any of his staff since June 2020.