Last Updated: September 12, 2023, 08:32 IST
London, United Kingdom (UK)
A parliamentary researcher with expertise in international affairs was arrested, with one other, on accusations that he was spying on the UK on behalf of China. (Image: Reuters/Representative)
A parliamentary researcher was arrested for spying on behalf of China and had access to top MPs, some of whom were elevated to the role of ministers by Rishi Sunak.
Cops arrested two men under the Official Secrets Act in March on accusations that they were spying for China. A report by the BBC also revealed that one of the arrested men is a “parliamentary researcher”, involved in international affairs issues, and had access to security minister Tom Tugendhat and Conservative MP Alicia Kearns.
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The report comes days after UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed concerns over Chinese spying in the UK with China Premier Li Qiang on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in New Delhi.
“(The Prime Minister) conveyed his significant concerns about Chinese interference in the UK’s parliamentary democracy,” a spokesperson for Prime Minister Sunak told the BBC.
Tugendhat’s office said that Tugendhat knew him when he was an MP and did not have any contact with him after he was appointed as minister. Kearns did not comment on how much access the man had to her office saying that she has a duty to ensure that her work as a public official does not get jeopardised.
“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 the residential properties, as well as at a third address in east London,” the Metropolitan Police said.
The Metropolitan Police’s, aka Met, Counter Terrorism Command, which oversees espionage-related offences, is probing the case.
Both men, however, were subsequently released on police bail until a date in early October, from a south London police station, the news report said. A separate report by the Sunday Times said the so-called researchers had access to several Conservative MPs. Their report also said that the man lived in China for some time.
Justice secretary Alex Chalk, however, defended the stance the Rishi Sunak government took with respect to China. Chalk said Sunak government is right to engage with China, in a bid to defend the recent decision to send UK foreign secretary James Cleverly to Beijing for an official visit.
Chalk said the Sunak government insisted on proceeding with caution on China-related issues. “Whatever lessons need to be learned by the parliamentary authorities I am sure will be learned,” Chalk told Sky News.
Earlier in July, a parliamentary report by the Intelligence and Security Committee said the parliament was slow in dealing with Chinese espionage threats.
“It appears that China has a high level of intent to interfere with the UK government, targeting officials and bodies at a range of levels to influence UK political thinking and decision-making relevant to China,’ the report said.
However, these developments will lead to tumult within the Tories. “(It is) time for us to recognise the deepening threat that the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) under (President) Xi now pose,” Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith said.
“What price was Cleverly’s kowtow visit to Beijing?” Smith was quoted as saying by the BBC.
“This is yet further evidence of how far the tentacles of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) reach into British institutions. Yet again the security of Parliament has potentially been compromised,” Tory MP Tim Loughton said. Loughton said that the UK should view the Communist Party of China as nothing less than a “hostile foreign threat”.
These arrests will again lead to questions for Sunak on how the UK must go about its relationship with Beijing. There have been calls to consider the threat Chinese espionage poses to British institutions and how deep is the level of interference from Beijing in UK’s internal affairs.
This also reminded many of the Christine Lee case where an unusual parliamentary interference alert was issued after the British spy agency, the MI5, said that the woman was carrying out political interference activities and donating funds to support MPs on behalf of China.
Shankhyaneel Sarkar is a senior subeditor at News18, covering international issues. He is an Arsenal fan, and in his free time, he enjoys exploring of