The Tory parliamentary expert on China accused of spying for Beijing at the heart of British democracy has today declared: ‘I am completely innocent’.
The man in his twenties, who has not been named, insisted his work in Parliament has been to ‘educate others’ about the ‘threats presented by the Chinese Communist Party’.
The suspect, held on suspicion of breaching the Official Secrets Act, is the son of a GP and was a cricket star at his expensive private school before embedding himself ‘in the Westminster China scene’.
He has links to several senior Tory MPs, including security minister Tom Tugendhat and foreign affairs committee chairwoman, and vocal China critic, Alicia Kearns.
In a statement released by his lawyers Birnberg Peirce he said: ‘I feel forced to respond to the media accusations that I am a ‘Chinese spy’. It is wrong that I should be obliged to make any form of public comment on the misreporting that has taken place.
‘However, given what has been reported, it is vital that it is known that I am completely innocent. I have spent my career to date trying to educate others about the challenge and threats presented by the Chinese Communist Party. To do what has been claimed against me in extravagant news reporting would be against everything I stand for.’
The suspect was described by people who know him as ‘very knowledgeable, very authoritative, very bright guy’, studying at a top university before spending two years teaching English at an international school in Hangzhou, near Shanghai. He then did a masters in China before starting work in Parliament in 2021, it has emerged, amid claims Chinese spy masters had allegedly recruited him in person – either in China or in Parliament – rather than online via LinkedIn.
The alleged ‘Chinese spy’ (pictured) who worked as parliamentary researcher is son of GP who went to public school
Colleagues said there was shock when vanished from Westminster, where he was at the heart of a social scene and organised bi-monthly pub drinks for a ‘Whitehall crowd of quite young people interested in China’.
Now it has emerged he was arrested at the same time as a second man in his thirties and both have been released on police bail until October. Both were held on suspicion of offences under the Official Secrets Act.
British intelligence services are poised to unmask a number of Chinese spies in the coming months, the Telegraph has claimed.
Scotland Yard said in a statement: ‘Officers from the Metropolitan Police arrested two men on March 13 on suspicion of offences under section one of the Official Secrets Act 1911.
‘A man in his thirties was arrested at an address in Oxfordshire and a man in his twenties 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. Both men were taken to a south London police station and were released on police bail until a date in early October.’
He was viewed as one of Westminster’s top experts on China, having taught there and also studied the country
Last night the suspected spy was not at his registered address, believed to be his parents’ home, in a leafy suburb.
One neighbour, who did not want to be named, said: ‘He did Chinese at university. He did a further Chinese course in London.’
They added the suspect had then gone on to live in China, which has been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party since 1949, to teach English to students.
The neighbour said: ‘He’s a lovely big lad, he’s a nice big fella, he’s fairly pleasant.’
The researcher was in a key role in Parliament for a year, having been promoted from a more junior position. MPs were said to be furious that they were left in the dark about his arrest.
He worked with MPs – some of whom are privy to highly sensitive information – on international policy for several years, and has previously spent time living and working in China.
One person who knows him told The Times he is a ‘skilled networker who became very embedded in the Westminster China scene’.
It is alleged to be one of the most serious security breaches involving a hostile state at Westminster.
As diplomatic relations plunged to a new low, Rishi Sunak confronted China’s premier over his country’s ‘unacceptable’ interference in British democracy.
There are calls for the Government to ban Beijing from attending the UK’s world-first summit on artificial intelligence later this autumn in response.
The revelations sparked fury yesterday as it continued a pattern of behaviour by Beijing that has become increasingly concerning to the UK.
MPs said it represented an ‘escalation’ in hostilities, and urged ministers to take the threat posed by China seriously while others called for a full review of all those who hold parliamentary passes.
Senior Conservative MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith told the Mail that ‘China does not give a damn about our policy of ‘robust pragmatism’ and sees Britain as a ‘soft option’.
Foreign affairs committee chairman Alicia Kearns is also said to have links to the researcher
The male suspect, who is said to be in his late twenties, is thought to be linked to numerous Tory MPs – including security minister Tom Tugendhat (pictured)
He branded the alleged spying a ‘hostile act’, adding: ‘They have infiltrated most of our institutions now. This is another example of how they target us in Parliament.’
Bob Seely, a Tory member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said: ‘To have an alleged taskable agent of influence in the Commons is a very serious thing.
‘What we are not grasping is the hostility of the Chinese state and the Chinese Communist Party in its current form.’
He also urged ministers to take the threat from China ‘seriously’, adding: ‘China does not want to live in harmony with the Western world, but it wants to be in a dominant position over it.
‘That doesn’t mean we wag a finger at them… it means we have a sensible, nuanced relationship but one where we are much more robust about protecting our interests and understanding our vulnerabilities and what that means in the future.’
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said: ‘In my view we should assume this not an isolated incident – but potentially part of a wider, long-term, Chinese strategy to infiltrate Parliament.’
Parliament’s spy agency watchdog, the Intelligence and Security Committee, warned in July that Beijing is targeting the UK ‘prolifically and aggressively’.
Last year, MI5 issued a rare security alert, warning MPs that a suspected spy, Christine Lee, had engaged in ‘political interference activities’ on behalf of China’s ruling communist regime.
And in July it was alleged China sent an agent posing as a tourist to infiltrate a Commons briefing by Hong Kong dissidents, trying to access an invitation-only committee room before being turned away.
The parliamentary researcher, in his late twenties, was arrested along with another man, in his thirties, by officers on March 13 on suspicion of offences under section one of the Official Secrets Act 1911. They were both released on bail and have not been charged.
Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses the Global Trade in Services Summit of the 2023 China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) via video in Beijing, capital of China, on September 2
Inquiries are being conducted by Scotland Yard’s counter-terror command, which takes the lead on espionage-related activities.
The Prime Minister raised his concerns with Chinese counterpart Li Qiang at the end of the G20 summit in India yesterday.
The Chinese PM is understood to have responded by saying the two leaders obviously have ‘differences in opinion’ during the conversation, which also touched on Ukraine and trade.
Mr Sunak said he raised his ‘very strong concerns about any interference in our parliamentary democracy, which is obviously unacceptable’.
He insisted it is the ‘right approach’ to be ‘in the room talking to the Chinese directly about those, face to face’ as he defended Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s recent visit to China.
‘There’s no point carping from the sidelines, I’d rather be in there directly expressing my concerns, and that’s what I did today,’ he added.
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk had to correct himself for initially using the more severe diplomatic language in a television interview yesterday morning.
‘The Prime Minister has been very clear when it comes to China it is an epoch-defining threat… challenge, forgive me… so of course we have got to take it extremely seriously,’ he told Sky’s Trevor Phillips.
Labour’s shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said current government policy of not describing China as a threat is ‘naive’ but argued that economic ties with Beijing could bring benefits.
He told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg: ‘There are areas where I think that economic relationship can be a positive one and actually might over the long-term be a positive thing.
‘But you can’t treat it in the same way, especially when you have got these appalling and shocking allegations today.’
Elsewhere, senior Tory MP Caroline Nokes called for a review of Parliament’s passholders in response to the arrest.
‘It’s a very timely reminder to colleagues to be careful who you’re employing, who you’re speaking to, and indeed to government and the parliamentary authorities to do your vetting when you’re dishing out passes properly and thoroughly,’ she told Times Radio.
Last night MPs questioned whether Ms Kearns and Mr Tugendhat would have to stand down from their respective roles due to their links to him.
One senior Tory MP said: ‘Both of them should recuse themselves from their roles while the investigation is completed. The reality is if it was anyone else, that’s what they would be saying.’
Rishi Sunak was last night urged to ban Beijing from attending the UK’s world-first summit on artificial intelligence
Downing Street and the House of Commons both declined to comment, citing their policies on security matters.
Rishi Sunak was last night urged to ban Beijing from attending the UK’s world-first summit on artificial intelligence.
Britain will host a major meeting of countries to discuss the risk of the rise in the technology and bid to agree on global safety measures.
The Prime Minister announced the summit, which will take place in November, amid fears AI’s rapid advancement meant current working practices and safeguards are already out of date.
His aim is to position the UK as ‘home to the transformative technologies of the future’.
The Government is said to want to involve the Chinese due to the size of the country’s AI industry, but the Prime Minister is under fresh pressure to exclude them from the Bletchley Park gathering.
Tory former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a leading ‘China hawk’, told the Daily Mail last night: ‘They have dominance in AI and they have dominance in genomics, and they are working to bring the two together. It’s astonishing really.
‘They are a threat and until we wake up to that threat, engaging with them only makes us look weak. [The summit] is an engagement for people who are in the free world – that’s what it should be.
‘We don’t want to engage people who are not in the free world because they don’t give a damn about us.’
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly visited China last month, and insisted it would not be ‘credible’ to disengage with Beijing.
But the EU, US and Japan are also reportedly pushing back against inviting China.