Who is Christine Lee? ‘Chinese spy’ links to Barry Gardiner explained as MI5 warns parliament of spying threat

A warning has been issued that a Chinese government agent has been active in the UK parliament

MI5 warnings have been issued over a Chinese government ‘agent’ being ‘active’ in the UK ParliamentMI5 warnings have been issued over a Chinese government ‘agent’ being ‘active’ in the UK Parliament
MI5 warnings have been issued over a Chinese government ‘agent’ being ‘active’ in the UK Parliament

MI5 has issued a warning to MPs about a Chinese agent it claims is covertly engaging in “political interference activities” in the UK on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

Christine Ching Kui Lee is alleged to have engaged with MPs while facilitating financial donations to politicians in Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland.

Details are contained in a Security Service Interference Alert (SSIA) circulated to parliamentarians by Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

In a covering letter, Sir Lindsay said the MPs she contacted included members of the now disbanded Chinese in Britain All Party Parliamentary Group.

What did the letter from Sir Lindsay say?

The letter said: “I am writing now to draw your attention to the attached Interference Alert issued by the Security Service, MI5, about the activities of an individual, Christine Lee, who has been engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, engaging with Members here at Parliament and associated political entities, including the former APPG: Chinese in Britain.

“I should highlight the fact that Lee has facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China. This facilitation was done covertly to mask the origins of the payments. This is clearly unacceptable behaviour and steps are being taken to ensure it ceases.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to remind colleagues of their responsibilities to verify the source of any donation they receive to ascertain whether it is from a permissible source, and their obligation to record the source of donations in the Register of Interests, or report to the Electoral Commission as appropriate.”

The letter urged MPs to report any approaches or concerns and said the Lord Speaker had also written to peers to warn them.

MI5 Security Service Interference Alert (SSIA) warning that Christine Ching Kui Lee “an agent of the Chinese government has been active in the British Parliament."MI5 Security Service Interference Alert (SSIA) warning that Christine Ching Kui Lee “an agent of the Chinese government has been active in the British Parliament."
MI5 Security Service Interference Alert (SSIA) warning that Christine Ching Kui Lee “an agent of the Chinese government has been active in the British Parliament."

Who is Christine Lee?

The Security Service Interference Alert, regarding Christine Ching Kui Lee and issued by MI5, said Lee has “acted covertly” in co-ordination with the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and is “judged to be involved in political interference activities in the UK”.

It said: “We judge that the UFWD is seeking to covertly interfere in UK politics through establishing links with established and aspiring parliamentarians across the political spectrum. The UFWD seeks to cultivate relationships with influential figures in order 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.

“Lee has been engaged in the facilitation of financial donations to political parties, parliamentarians, aspiring parliamentarians and individuals seeking political office in the UK, including facilitating donations to political entities on behalf of foreign nationals.

“Lee has publicly stated that her activities are to represent the UK Chinese community and increase diversity. However the aforementioned activity has been undertaken in covert co-ordination with the UFWD, with funding provided by foreign nationals located in China and Hong Kong.

“Lee has extensive engagement with individuals across the UK political spectrum. including through the now disbanded All-Party Parliamentary Chinese in Britain Group, and may aspire to establish further APPGs to further the CCP’s agenda.”

The alert warned that anyone contacted by her should be “mindful of her affiliation with the Chinese state and remit to advance the CCP’s agenda in UK politics”.

What are her links to Barry Gardiner?

Analysis of the Register of Members’ Financial Interests showed Christine Lee donated more than £500,000 to Brent North Labour MP Barry Gardiner between 2015 and 2020, mostly through funding for 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 Democrats dinner to support the party’s then candidate for Somerton and Frome, Sarah Yong.

The register showed that in 2013 she funded flights for a four-day trip to Beijing for then Labour MP for Hendon Andrew Dismore, in his role as chairman of the Chinese in Britain APPG.

In a statement he said he had been “liaising with our security services” for many years about her, saying: “They have always known, and been made fully aware by me, of her engagement with my office and the donations she made to fund researchers in my office in the past.

“Steps were taken to ensure Christine Lee had no role in either the appointment or management of those researchers. They are also aware that I have not benefited personally from those donations in any way. She ceased funding any workers in my office in June 2020.”

He said all the donations were properly reported and “their source verified at the time”, and added: “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.”

Mr Gardiner, the former chairman of the Chinese in Britain APPG, also said he had employed Lee’s son as his diary manager until he abruptly resigned earlier on Thursday.

He said in a statement: “Christine Lee’s son volunteered in my office many years ago and was subsequently employed by me as a diary manager. He resigned from my employment earlier today.

“The Security Services have advised me that they have no intelligence that shows he was aware of, or complicit in, his mother’s illegal activity.

“I will continue to work closely with our Security Services in this and all other matters that relate to the security of our country.”

Barry Gardiner.Barry Gardiner.
Barry Gardiner.

What has been said in the House of Commons?

Raising a point of order in the Commons, Sir Iain said the Speaker has emailed MPs.

He said: “They key issue here is I understand that Mr Speaker has been contacted by MI5 and is now warning members of Parliament that there has been an agent of the Chinese government active here in Parliament working with a Member of Parliament, obviously to subvert the processes here.

“I say, as a Member of Parliament who has been sanctioned by the Chinese government, that this is a matter of grave concern.”

Sir Iain added: “Will this now lead to a serious overhaul of the accreditation procedures here in the House of Commons because it’s clearly too slack that these people get in – either in APPGs (all-party parliamentary groups) or with individuals.

“Is it possible we’ll have a statement from the Speaker from the chair about the risks?”

Sir Iain asked for the Government to also make a statement on the matter.

Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans said it was not the policy of the chair to comment in detail on security matters in the chamber.

He added: “I can assure the right honourable member that the House authorities are in regular contact with the appropriate Government agencies on this matter and we will update our advice and activities as necessary.”

Conservative former defence minister Tobias Ellwood also told the chamber: “This is the sort grey-zone interference we now anticipate and expect from China.

“But the fact that it’s happened to this Parliament, there must be a sense of urgency from this Government.”

He also asked for a Government statement to be made on Thursday to enable MPs to understand the impact of the actions and the intended response.

What has Priti Patel said?

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “I know it will be deeply concerning to many that an individual who has knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party has targeted parliamentarians.

“This development has come as a result of the strong structures the United Kingdom has in place to identify foreign interference or any potential threats to our democracy.

“Where necessary, proportionate action is always taken to mitigate these threats, thanks to our world-leading intelligence and security agencies.

“Forthcoming measures to counter these kind of threats will build on the robust safeguards already in place, making our country even harder for states to conduct hostile activity in.”

This article will continue to be updated throughout the day

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