Priti Patel tells MPs to be on their guard against foreign agents

The Home Secretary said the threat of interference in UK politics from hostile powers is ‘growing and diversifying’.

Gavin Cordon
Monday 17 January 2022 16:54
The offices of Christine Lee and Co on Wardour Street, central London (Victoria Jones/PA)
The offices of Christine Lee and Co on Wardour Street, central London (Victoria Jones/PA)

Home Secretary Priti Patel has warned MPs they need to be aware of the threat of interference in British politics by foreign states following disclosure a suspected Chinese agent has been targeting Parliament.

Last week MI5 took the unusual step of circulating an alert to MPs and peers that Christine Lee, a prominent London-based solicitor, has been engaged in “political interference activities” on behalf of China’s ruling communist regime.

They were said to include channelling funds to British parliamentarians with a view to making the UK political landscape more favourable to Beijing.

Home Secretary Priti Patel told MPs to be aware of the threat of foreign agents (Aaron Chown/PA)

In a Commons statement, Ms Patel said that the threat of such interference operations by foreign powers was “growing and diversifying”.

She said ministers were working with police and the Crown Prosecution Service to give them additional powers to tackle activities which were not currently illegal.

“We can expect to see these kinds of alerts become more commonplace as a result of the work of our world class intelligence agencies who have adapted to counter these new and emerging threats,” she said.

“We will introduce new legislation to provide the security services and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to disrupt the full range of state threats.”

The MI5 Security Service Interference Alert (SSIA) about Christine Lee (MI5/PA)

The senior Labour MP Barry Gardiner who received more than £500,000 from Ms Lee to pay for researchers in his office, told the House that he been assured that the MI5 alert did not relate to those donations.

He called on Ms Patel to say what action was being taken to identify where the “tainted” funds had ended up and whether MPs would be given extra support in making required checks about the true source of any donation.

“She will know the security services told me their alert was based on specific intelligence of illegal funding which did not relate to the donations which paid for my office staff.

“Those ceased in 2020,” he said.

“Is she able to tell the House what steps she is taking to ascertain where the tainted money ended up?”

Ms Patel replied: “It is fact that across this House we will absolutely come together to do everything possible in terms of protecting the integrity of our democracy and all honourable members from such malign interference and threat.”

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