China ‘spy’ in Parliament: everything we know so far about British researcher arrested under
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A researcher at the UK Parliament has been arrested on suspicion of “spying for China”.
The male suspect, who is said to be in his late 20s, has links to several Tory MPs who are “privy to classified or highly sensitive information,” according to The Times. These MPs are thought to include security minister Tom Tugendhat, and foreign affairs committee chairman Alicia Kearns.
He was arrested in March alongside another man in his 30s, but the details of the alleged security breach were not made public until this weekend. This has prompted outrage from ministers who were left in the dark, with many calling on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to designate China a threat to national security.
The Met Police, which is investigating, said: “A man in his 30s was arrested at an address in Oxfordshire and a man in his 20s was arrested at an address in Edinburgh. Searches were also carried out at both of the residential properties, as well as at a third address in east London.”
Meanwhile, the UK Parliamentary researcher arrested under the Official Secrets Act has insisted that he is “completely innocent”. In a statement on Monday (11 September), he said: “I have spent my career to date trying to educate others about the challenge and threats presented by the Chinese Communist Party. To do what has been claimed against me in extravagant news reporting would be against everything I stand for.”
Here’s everything we know so far.
Who is the alleged spy?
The man accused of ‘spying’ for China is said to be a UK Parliament researcher in his late 20s. According to The Times, he is the son of a GP and grew up in a wealthy suburb in Edinburgh. Here, he attended a private school, before going on to study a history degree at the University of St Andrews.
He has reportedly held a Westminster pass for many years, and is thought to have had links to several senior politicians. These include ministers Alicia Kearns and Tom Tugendhat, although the alleged ‘spy’ reportedly only had contact with Mr Tugendhat before he became security minister in September 2022. The pair are said to have had no contact since.
According to The Times, the man was the director of an influential government policy group on Beijing.
What is he accused of?
The male suspect was arrested under Section 1 of the Official Secrets Act, which Scotland Yard said relates to “the passing of information that may be prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State” - as well as communications which are “calculated to be or intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy.”
According to the Sunday Times, which first reported on the news, security officials believe the researcher was recruited as a sleeper agent while he was previously living and working in China. He was then sent back to the United Kingdom “with the intention of infiltrating political networks critical of the Beijing regime.”
How concerned should we be?
Several MPs have already voiced their concern about the alleged ‘spy’, with The Times reporting that one source from Whitehall said: “This is a major escalation by China. We have never seen anything like this before.”
Meanwhile, MPs who have previously been outspoken in their condemnation of China’s human rights record - and as a result have been sanctioned by Beijing - have said they fear that they were the targets of the security breach.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory Party leader who has been sanctioned by China, said: “It’s a remarkably dangerous situation. This is a guy who allegedly spies on behalf of the Chinese Government in the place where decisions are made and sensitive information is transferred.
“It is vitally important that he is named because many people who came into contact with this individual will be unaware that he has been arrested on suspicion of espionage. There is a clear public interest.”
Another Tory MP who has been sanctioned by China added: “I’m in a complete state of shock. We weren’t told about this, we haven’t been given any support. All sanctioned MPs should have been told. How many more people are there in Parliament who might be targeting us?”
Prime Minister Sunak is reported to have confronted Chinese premier Li Qiang at the G20 summit in India over the “unacceptable” interference on Sunday (10 September), in a sign of growing concern at the top of government.
However, sources also insist that the UK is among the most “hawkish” of Western countries regarding China, being the only one of the G7 not to have engaged leader-to-leader with President Xi Jinping in recent years.
Meanwhile, the man at the centre of the scandal, who has been named has proclaimed his innocence in a statement released on Monday (11 September) by his lawyers Birnberg Peirce: “I feel forced to respond to the media accusations that I am a ‘Chinese spy’.
“It is wrong that I should be obliged to make any form of public comment on the misreporting that has taken place. However, given what has been reported, it is vital that it is known that I am completely innocent.
“I have spent my career to date trying to educate others about the challenge and threats presented by the Chinese Communist Party. To do what has been claimed against me in extravagant news reporting would be against everything I stand for.”
What happens next?
Sunak is under fresh pressure to designate China a threat to national security, particularly from security minister Tom Tugendhat and Home Secretary Suella Braverman, according to The Times.
But some MPs do not support this, with Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch telling BBC Radio 4 that it would only “escalate things” with Beijing. She continued: “We are taking action, [but] what we’re not doing is giving endless running commentary on that because that would actually be more helpful to China than it would be to our security services.”
The male suspect in his 20s, who was first arrested in March, has reportedly been bailed until early October alongside the other man in his 30s.