Chinese spy infiltrated UK Parliament, MI5 alleges

Intelligence agency says female Chinese national ‘engaged in political interference activities’ on behalf of Beijing.

Britain's Houses of Parliament are seen across the river Thames in London
The UK's relations with China have deteriorated in recent years over issues including Beijing's tightening of its grip on Hong Kong and alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang [File: Stephen Hird/Reuters]

The United Kingdom’s domestic intelligence service has alleged that a woman suspected of working on behalf of China’s governing Communist Party has sought to improperly influence members of the UK’s Parliament, according to officials.

House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle’s office said in a note issued to members of Parliament on Thursday that MI5 had found that the woman “has been engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party”.

Hoyle’s letter added the Chinese national, whose whereabouts were unknown, had engaged with legislators and “facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring Parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China”.

There was no immediate comment by the Chinese government.

MI5’s own interference alert, which was circulated to parliamentarians, said anyone contacted by the woman should be “mindful of her affiliation” and its “remit to advance the CCP’s agenda”.

Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of the UK’s governing Conservative Party, told Parliament on Thursday that the case was a “matter of grave concern”.

He called for the woman to be deported and demanded Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government make a statement to the Commons over the case.

Duncan Smith has been sanctioned by China for highlighting alleged human rights abuses in the country’s northwestern Xinjiang region.

Deteriorating relations

Tobias Ellwood, a fellow Conservative lawmaker and former defence minister, also called for a government statement to the Commons.

“This is the sort grey-zone interference we now anticipate and expect from China,” he said. “But the fact that it’s happened to this Parliament, there must be a sense of urgency from this government.”

The UK’s relations with China have deteriorated in recent years over issues including the latter’s tightening of its grip on Hong Kong and the situation in Xinjiang, where Beijing has been accused of detaining at least one million Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group, in internment camps.

Last year, MI5 urged British citizens to treat the threat of spying from Russia, China and Iran with as much vigilance as “terrorism”.

British spies say China and Russia have each sought to steal commercially sensitive data and intellectual property, as well as to interfere in domestic politics and sow misinformation.

The UK in February 2021 expelled three alleged Chinese spies, who MI5 said were posing as journalists but actually worked for China’s Ministry of State Security.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies