The story sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie: a Chinese spy allegedly tried to influence British parliamentarians. The woman had been politically active for years, she even received a medal.
Britain’s domestic intelligence service has warned Parliament in London about a suspected 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”. Interior Minister Priti Patel said someone tried to influence parliamentarians “for the Chinese Communist Party”.
According to Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith, Hoyle was “contacted by MI5”. He warned MPs that a “Chinese government agent was active in parliament”.
The alert issued by MI5, quoted by British media, identifies the alleged agent as Christine Lee. He said he “knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department.”
Spy is said to have mediated
According to reports, the London-based lawyer has played a facilitating role in “financial contributions to political parties, parliamentarians, potential parliamentarians and those considering political office in the UK”. Lee reportedly 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 London’s government district. She was pictured 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.
“We strongly oppose bullying in the UK”
The Chinese Embassy in London denied the espionage allegations and said: “We must not and will never try to buy influence in a foreign parliament.” She added, “We strongly reject the defamation and intimidation of the Chinese community in the UK.”
Barry Gardiner, who has since resigned, said all donations were properly reported. He also explained that Lee’s son had worked for him until his resignation on Thursday.
Tory MP Duncan Smith expressed concern that Lee would not be arrested, only barred from entering Parliament. He also called for a review of parliamentary accreditation rules. Former defense secretary Tobias Ellwood told the House of Commons the allegations were “the kind of interference in a gray area that we now expect from China”.