WESTMINSTER has been rocked by a major spying scandal after MI5 accused a Labour donor of being a suspected Chinese agent targeting MPs.
Chinese national Christine Lee is accused of trying to influence Labour MP and Jeremy Corbyn ally Barry Gardiner, as well as a host of others.
The Security Services issued an alert and picture of Lee today and accused her of “facilitating financial donations to serving and aspiring politicians.”
She has been a long-time funder of Labour MP Barry Gardiner’s office through her law firm Christine Lee & Co, which also works for the Chinese Embassy in London.
Since 2005, Ms Lee has donated £675,586.88 to either Mr Gardiner’s office or the Labour Party.
Donations began in September 2015, soon after Brent North MP’s Mr Gardiner became shadow minister for energy.
They included £182,284 that pays the wages of two of Mr Gardiner’s Westminster aides — one of whom is Christine Lee’s son, Daniel Wilkes.
In a statement Mr Gardiner said Ms Lee’s son resigned “earlier today” and had no knowledge of his mother’s activities, according to the security services.
Ms Lee has previously rubbed shoulders with Mr Corbyn, PM David Cameron and even received a Points of Light Award from Theresa May.
But a bombshell warning sent to MPs and Peers by the security services today warns Ms Lee has been attempting to influence politicians from across the political divide.
The Interference Alert issued MI5 said she had been “engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, engaging with Members here at Parliament and associated political entities.”
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle told MPs: “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.”
The interference notice about Ms Lee has been issued on behalf of MI5 and was sent by the speaker’s Parliamentary security team to all MPs, peers and their staff.
The notice carries a specific warning that Ms Lee has targeted Parliamentarians on behalf of the Chinese state.
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.
“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.”
Ex-Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who has been sanctioned by China, said he feared MPs’ offices had been compromised.
Tory MP Bob Seely said: “It’s clearly serious that there appear to be actual agents of a foreign, adversarial power in Parliament.”
HEART OF DEMOCRACY
Today Mr Gardiner said he’d been “liaising with our Security Services for a number of years about Christine Lee and 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”.
He added: “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 benefitted personally from those donations in any way. She ceased funding any workers in my office in June 2020.
“All the donations were properly reported in the register of members’ interests and their source verified at the time.
“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 said Ms Lee’s son volunteered in his office “many years ago” before being employed as his diary manager – but resigned today.
The MP said the security services have assured him was not complicit in “his mother’s illegal activity”.
It is understood that as well as Labour MP Mr Gardiner, Ms Lee is also suspected of targeting politicians from all mainstream parties.
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey received a £5,000 donation from Ms Lee in 2013 when he was Energy Secretary in the coalition.
A spokesman for Sir Ed said: “This donation was reported properly and all rules and guidance was followed – as Ed expects is the case with donations made to colleagues across the House.”
No MP’s are suspected of any criminality at this stage and the focus of the MI5 investigation is on Chinese authorities and their attempts to damage Britain.
Ms Lee has not been arrested but remains under investigation by security services.
She is believed to still be in the UK and runs a law firm with offices in London and Beijing.
The bombshell revelation comes as Boris Johnson battles to cling on amid the raging “partygate” storm.
Five Tory MPs have so far broken cover to demand his resignation, despite the PM’s “heartfelt” apology for attending the lockdown-breaking bash.
A spokeswoman for the Speaker’s office said: “The Speaker takes the security of Members and the democratic process very seriously, which is why he issued this notice in consultation with the security services. There is no further comment on this matter.”