The son of a woman named by MI5 as a suspected Chinese spy resigned from a Labour MP's team
- The son of suspected Chinese agent Christine Lee worked for Labour MP
Barry Gardineruntil Thursday.
- Lee has donated more than £427,000 to Gardiner since 2015, records show.
The son of a woman identified as a suspected Chinese agent worked for Labour MP Barry Gardiner until he resigned "earlier today", the former shadow minister has said.
MI5, the UK's Security Service, has issued an alert warning MPs and Lords that they should avoid Christine Lee. The notice, seen by Insider, said she had "knowingly engaged in political interference activities" on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.
"Christine Lee's son [Daniel Wilkes] volunteered in my office many years ago and was subsequently employed by me as a diary manager," Gardiner said in a statement to Insider.
"He resigned from my employment earlier today. The Security Services have advised me that they have no intelligence that shows he was aware of, or complicit in, his mother's illegal activity."
Gardiner, a longtime ally of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, said he had been liasing with security services about Lee for "a number of years", adding: "They have always known, and been made fully aware by me, of her engagement with my office and the donations she made to fund researchers in my office in the past."
The former shadow minister said: "Steps were taken to ensure Christine Lee had no role in either the appointment or management of those researchers. They are also aware that I have not benefitted personally from those donations in any way. She ceased funding any workers in my office in June 2020."
Links between Gardiner and Lee are well-established and were reported on by outlets including The Times in 2017. Lee's firm paid the wages of Parliamentary aides working in Gardiner's office, including for her son's salary, according to declarations in Gardiner's entry in the register of members interests.
Lee's firm donated more than £427,000 to Labour MP Barry Gardiner since 2015, Electoral Commission records show.
As well as donations to Gardiner, Lee's firm also gave £5000 to the local association of Sir Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat leader.
The April 2013 donation was made while Davey was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.
A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said no concerns had previously been raised over the donation.
The spokesperson told Insider: "Ed is shocked by these revelations and the email from the Speaker of the House of Commons today was the first time he has been given cause to be concerned about a donation to his local party association received in 2013.
"The Government must make it a national security priority to protect the UK's democracy from threats and interference by foreign actors.
"This donation was reported properly and all rules and guidance was followed - as Ed expects is the case with donations made to colleagues across the House."
In his email to MPs, Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said: "I should highlight the fact that Lee has facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China.
"This facilitation was done covertly to mask the origins of the payments."
A spokeswoman for the Speaker's office told Insider: "The Speaker takes the security of Members and the democratic process very seriously, which is why he issued this notice in consultation with the security services. There is no further comment on this matter."
Nicky Morgan, the former Culture Minister who oversaw the government's decision to exclude Chinse tech firm Huawei from critical UK infrastructure, told Insider that MPs were often approached by people and that it was important for parliamentarians to "be on their guard."
She said people would be "hard pushed find any MP who hasn't been approached by someone who wants to make a donation or invite them to something that rings alarm bells.
"You have to be on your guard all the time, and not just on China," she said.
The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said it was "deeply concerning" but stressed that the UK's "strong structures" would enable authorities to "identify foreign interference or any potential threats to our democracy".
She added: "Where necessary, proportionate action is always taken to mitigate these threats."
Tom Tugendhat MP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and chair of the China Research Group, told Insider: "Our security services are rightly focussed on state threats in the UK.
"It is clear that the challenge from Beijing is increasing and we need to defend our democracy against hostile activity."
The alert sent to parliamentarians, and sent by a source to Insider, can be seen below.
Lee became a prominent figure within legal and political circles in recent years, receiving a prestigious "Points of Light" award from former Prime Minister Theresa May for founding the British Chinese Project, a nonprofit group that promoted "engagement, understanding, and cooperation" between the Chinese community and the UK.
In a letter to Lee, May wrote: "You should feel very proud of the difference that 'The British Chinese Project' is making in promoting engagement, understanding, and cooperation between the Chinese and British communities in the UK. I also wish you well with your work to further the inclusion and participation of British-Chinese people in the UK political system."
Footage uploaded to YouTube by the Chinese state broadcaster shows Lee, wearing blue, shaking hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a May 2019 meeting of the China Overseas Friendship Association.
She is later seen directly behind the leader of the United Front system, a network of party and state agencies responsible for influencing groups outside the party, according to a 2020 report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
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