Britain’s intelligence services have a proud history, but are they losing their touch? Why is it only now that they are reported to be taking seriously claims, first made during the Trump presidency, that the COVID virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan?
The turning point seems to have been the recent publication of a declassified U.S. intelligence report that three Chinese researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology became ill and had to be hospitalized in November 2019, just months before the first reported COVID-19 deaths.
Similar disclosures had been released on Jan. 15 by the outgoing Trump administration, but it didn’t seem to galvanize British intelligence in quite the same way. Former head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Sir Richard Dearlove, claims this is because “Nobody wanted to associate themselves with Trump, and now you’ve got Biden they’ve all literally switched sides …. Now, suddenly, the dam has broken.”
The original lab-leak claim was made a year earlier by some brave Chinese scientists from the South China University of Technology, as covered in a story I wrote in the Washington Times on March 23, 2020.
Vanity Fair has now revealed more about those scientists’ findings, which first appeared briefly on Chinese social media in February 2020: “We screened the area around the seafood market and identified two laboratories conducting research on bat coronavirus.” The article continues: “The first was the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which sat just 280 meters from the Huanan market and had been known to collect hundreds of bat samples. The second, the researchers wrote, was the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
Sir Richard further added: “I sent this material to Porton Down (The UK’s top-secret chemical warfare research installation) a year ago and what infuriates me is that people refused to listen to us.” If the man who ran MI6 from 1999 to 2004 was ignored and British intelligence only began to investigate seriously once a Democrat administration was in power in the United States, this should raise concerns.
Since WWII Britain has mostly sided with America on foreign policy, showing respect to whichever president was in charge, regardless of their party affiliation. But that changed with Donald Trump.
The level of open hostility towards him in the UK was unprecedented and it wasn’t just in the media. Theresa May’s government was initially too afraid of public anger to offer President Donald Trump a state-level welcome to the UK, so when he did first visit in 2018 it was downgraded to a business trip.
British MPs went so far as to ban him from addressing them in Parliament. According to John Bercow, then Speaker of the House: “An address to both Houses of Parliament is not an automatic right; it is an earned honour. My view is that he has not earned that honour.”
To add further insult to Trump, in 2015 a full state welcome was given to Chairman Xi of China, including a state banquet with the Queen at Buckingham Palace and giving an address to both Houses of Parliament. Presumably Bercow believed Xi had earned the right.
Eventually, Trump was given a state-level welcome on his second visit to the UK, in 2019, though still no offer of an address to Parliament.
Remarkably this diplomatic snub didn’t lead to an end of the “Special Relationship,” a term Winston Churchill first coined in 1946. This was partly because President Trump demonstrated remarkable restraint, even forgiveness, for his mother’s country.
But it also has to do with the nature of the relationship, which doesn’t just operate at a governmental level, but also among the intelligence services. Those connections remained as strong as ever throughout Trump’s tenure, though not in the way he might have wished.
From the get-go Trump faced open hostility from heads of the American intel community which culminated in the unsuccessful, 22-month long special investigation led by former FBI head Robert Mueller into alleged Trump-Russia collusion.
Some of the evidence used in the hearings came from the former MI6 agent Christopher Steele. His dossier has since been largely discredited and Trump tweeted in July 2020 “This man should be extradited, tried and thrown in jail.”
If there was antipathy towards President Trump within the British intelligence services it could be because he often acted contrary to British foreign policy, which remained more aligned with his Democrat predecessor, Barack Obama.
Trump pulled America out of the Paris Agreement on climate change and then the World Health Organisation due to COVID. He was also against the Iran nuclear deal and he stood up to China while Conservative British governments were doing everything they could to increase trade with them.
David Cameron sought to position Britain as “China’s number one partner in the West.” His ambition was to turn Britain “green” and Chinese investment was needed to fund it.
This included the next generation of high-cost, low-carbon nuclear power stations starting with Hinkley Point C. The deal was eventually ratified in 2016, soon after Theresa May became Prime minister. It included the China General Nuclear Power group and China National Nuclear Corporation as major investors.
Later, Prime Minister Boris Johnson chose to ignore his Five Eyes intelligence partners’ advice when he looked to the Chinese communications giant Huawei to help install a new 5G network in the UK, although Trump did eventually manage to talk him out of it. Now the former head of Huawei Poland, Weijing Wang, is on trial in Warsaw accused of spying for China.
Johnson is still giving China a pass on COVID. He told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC): “I’ll be clear with you, so far the stuff I’ve seen does not suggest that the number one candidate for this is a lab leak… at the moment, the number one suspect for the origin of this disease is still a zoonotic disease that occurred as a result of the farming of wild animals in some way.”
Based on what intelligence?
Andrew Davies is a UK-based video producer and writer. His award-winning video on underage sex abuse helped Barnardos children’s charity change UK law, while his documentary “Batons, Bows and Bruises: A History of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,” ran for six years on the Sky Arts Channel.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.