The British government will introduce new legislation to counter foreign interference, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has said after a Chinese communist spy was found operating in Parliament.
The UK’s MI5 security agency took the unusual step of sending an alert to Parliament on Jan. 12 warning that an individual named Christine Ching Kui Lee has been “knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).”
The alert states that Lee had been facilitating financial donations to UK political parties and politicians and that anyone contacted by her should be “mindful of her affiliation with the Chinese state and remit to advance the CCP’s agenda in UK politics.”
Making a statement in the House of Commons on Jan. 17, Patel said she was “utterly appalled that an individual who has knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party for a number of years targeted members of this Parliament.”
She said the aim of such influence activity was “to make the UK political landscape more favourable to the Chinese authorities’ agenda and to challenge those who raise concerns about the Chinese authorities’ activities on very pressing issues such as human rights.”
She said similar security alerts will “become more commonplace” as intelligence agencies “have adapted to counter these new and emerging threats.”
The UK government is developing new national security legislation “to make it even harder for a malign state to conduct such activities,” Patel said, adding that such legislation will “provide the security services and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to disrupt the full range of state threats.”
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of the Conservative Party, said it was “shocking that any member of this House should allow themselves to be used by a foreign power.”
“The government’s got to get tougher even still,” he said. “It is time to change our position and call China the threat that it really is to us.”
Bob Seely, another Conservative MP, said similar scandals are “just going to carry on” until “we update our espionage laws, until we update our domestic lobbying laws, and until we bring in a foreign lobbying law.”
Opposition parties have also called for measures to be taken to boost the UK’s defence against Chinese interference.
Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said the information contained in the MI5 security alert was “obviously extremely serious” and “we condemn in the strongest terms the attempts by China to interfere in Britain’s democratic process.”
Labour MP Chris Bryant stressed that MPs needed to have “our eyes wide open about possible infiltration of British politics.”
He also called for a series of Chinese officials to be sanctioned, including Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam and four Xinjiang officials, as they have been “undermining human rights both in Hong Kong and in China.”
PA Media contributed to this report.