Fresh fears over Parliament security amid claims ‘Chinese spy’ was able to access Palace of Westminster for up to 18 months without being vetted
Fresh fears have been raised over Parliament’s security following claims an alleged ‘Chinese spy’ was able to access the Palace of Westminster for months without being vetted.
It followed the arrest of two men under the Official Secrets Act amid allegations that a parliamentary researcher spied for China.
The researcher is claimed to have had links to several senior Tory MPs, including security minister Tom Tugendhat and Alicia Kearns, the chair of the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee.
The Sunday Times has now reported the arrested man was able to access the parliamentary estate for up to 18 months without any background security checks.
The newspaper claimed he was free to move around the Palace of Westminster on daily visitor passes because of his links to Mr Tugendhat and Ms Kearns.
It added the researcher only gained a permanent parliamentary pass at the start of this year – which would have seen him undergo background security vetting – when he was sponsored by Ms Kearns.
Those who enter Parliament on visitor passes have to go through airport-style checks to access the estate but do not undergo background security vetting and there is no register held of their names.
They are expected to be accompanied by their host throughout their time in Parliament.
A senior Whitehall source told the newspaper that visitor passes exposed Parliament to the ‘greatest threat to security’.
‘The current system that allows visitors onto the estate without even registering their names has always been the greatest weakness in the system and is open to abuse,’ the source said.
‘People can use different entrances and there are often different security guards on duty, so there is often no way of keeping track of people who come on to the estate this way.’
In a statement released by his lawyers Binberg Peirce, the man has said he is ‘completely innocent’.
‘I feel forced to respond to the media accusations that I am a “Chinese spy”,’ the statement said.
‘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.’
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak this week stressed that protecting the UK from foreign state activity was an ‘absolute priority’ for the Government.
‘I am clear-eyed about that challenge and will call out unacceptable behaviour directly just as I did last weekend with Premier Li at the G20 Summit in New Delhi,’ he added.
The man was arrested, along with another male in his 30s, by officers on March 13 on suspicion of spying for Beijing.
Officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, which oversees espionage-related offences, are investigating.
Both were held on suspicion of offences under Section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1911, which punishes offences that are said to be ‘prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state’.
They have been bailed until early October.