UK Intel Service Says Labour Donor Vectored Chinese Cash to British MPs for Influence
15:10 GMT 13.01.2022 (Updated: 22:42 GMT 14.01.2022)
The allegations against opposition donor Christine Lee, who paid for her own son to work for former Labour shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner, will be welcomed in Downing Street as a shift in focus from clams PM Boris Johnson broke COVID-19 lockdown rules.
The UK's spy-catchers have accused a Birmingham-based lawyer and long-time Labour Party donor of channelling Chinese cash to MPs in a bid to meddle in British politics.
An "interference alert" from MI5 counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism service was circulated by email to MPs on Thursday, warning them that British-resident Chinese national Christine Ching Kui Lee was funnelling funds from mainland China and Hong Kong to British MPs and candidates.
It claimed she was acting on behalf of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the United Front Work Department (UFWD
). She has previously been named as a chief legal advisor to Beijing's embassy in London.
Lee is "engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, engaging with Members here at Parliament and associated political entities," MI5 said.
The news was announced in Parliament by former Tory leader and senior backbencher Iain Duncan-Smith.
“This has not been about targeting the government in particular,” a source told The Guardian
But House of Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said the lawyer had acted as an intermediary for a bid to influence both serving members and Parliamentary candidates, assuring that such channels would be cut off.
"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," he told MPs.
"This facilitation was done covertly to mask the origins of the payments," Hoyle alleged. "This is clearly unacceptable behaviour and steps are being taken to ensure it ceases."
The claim of Chinese interference is likely to divert attention from the opposition Labour Party's demand for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign
over claims he broke COVID-19 lockdown rules — and shift focus to its own benches.
Newspaper The Times
reported in February 2017 that Lee had been bankrolling the Labour Party and former shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner, the MP for Brent North in London, since 2005.
Her £675,586.88 in donations included £182,284 to cover the salaries of two of Gardiner's Parliamentary staff, one of whom is Lee's own son Daniel Wilkes, from 2015 to June 2020. Wilkes stayed on Gardiner's staff after that.
Gardiner said on Thursday afternoon that Wilkes had tendered his resignation earlier that day — while also giving credence to the claim Lee was engaged in "illegal activity".
"I have 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," Gardiner insisted. "Steps were taken to ensure Christine Lee had no role in either the appointment or management of those researchers."
But Labour was not the only party implicated, as it emerged that Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey's local party branch had accepted a £5,000 donation from Lee in 2013.
His spokesman said Hoyle's email was the "first time he has been given cause to be concerned" about that donation.
“The Government must make it a national security priority to protect the UK’s democracy from threats and interference by foreign actors," Davey's spokesman 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.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel also vowed via Twitter to crack down on the alleged Chinese meddling.
"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," Patel said. "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."
Lee runs a legal practice
in Birmingham, Britain's second-largest city, with an office on Wardour Street in London's Chinatown. According to MI5, she is connected to the Chinese Overseas Friendship Association and the British-Chinese Project
, which has been "dormant" since early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo accused the UFWD
and the friendship association in October 2020 of seeking to "directly and malignly influence" state and local-level politicians.