Rishi Sunak reads riot act to Chinese premier at G20 summit as PM expresses his ‘serious concerns’ over claims of Beijing spying in Parliament
It comes after two men were arrested under the Official Secrets Act amid allegations that a parliamentary researcher spied for China.
The researcher reportedly 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.
A No 10 spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister met Premier Li Qiang and conveyed his significant concerns about Chinese interference in the UK’s parliamentary democracy.’
The Briton was arrested along with another man by officers on March 13 on suspicion of spying for Beijing, it was revealed by the Sunday Times.
Officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, which oversees espionage-related offences, are investigating.
One of the men, in his 30s, was detained in Oxfordshire on March 13, while the other, in his 20s, was arrested in Edinburgh, Scotland Yard said.
Both were held on suspicion of offences under section one of the Official Secrets Act 1911, which punishes offences that are said to be ‘prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state’.
‘Searches were also carried out at both the residential properties, as well as at a third address in east London,’ a statement from the Met Police said.
Both men were held at a south London police station until being bailed until early October.
Mr Tugendhat is said not to have had any contact with the researcher since before he became security minister in September last year.
Ms Kearns declined to comment, adding: ‘While I recognise the public interest, we all have a duty to ensure any work of the authorities is not jeopardised.’
According to the newspaper, the researcher held a parliamentary pass and worked with MPs on international policy, including relations with Beijing, for several years.
Mr Sunak has been under pressure from Tory MPs to take a tougher stance on China after he stopped short of formally declaring Beijing a ‘threat’.
The PM has instead referred to China as an ‘epoch-defining challenge’ to the West.
Earlier this year, Parliament’s intelligence watchdog warned that Chinese spies are targeting Britain ‘prolifically and aggressively’ with Beijing managing to penetrate ‘every sector of the economy’.
The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) warned the UK is of ‘significant interest to China when it comes to espionage and interference’, placing the country ‘just below China’s top priority targets’.
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk this morning warned that China had to be taken ‘extremely seriously’ but insisted the UK had to ‘engage’ with Beijing.
Risking a slip-up over Mr Sunak’s preferred choice of language when referring to China, Mr Chalk told Sky News: ‘The PM has been very clear when it comes to China, it’s an epoch-defining threat… challenge, forgive me.
‘So of course we’ve got to take it extremely seriously and I know the police and, no doubt, other agencies will take it seriously as well and let’s learn whatever lessons need to be learned.’
He added: ‘You can’t wish China away, China is the world’s second-biggest economy.
‘If we are going to meet the challenge of climate change, we can’t do it without China.
‘They’re responsible for about 27 or 28 per cent of emissions, we’re about one per cent.
‘So we have to engage but we do so with our eyes open.
‘That’s why we take steps such as ensuring Huawei is out of our 5G network, at the same time recognising there’s a sensible engagment to have and that’s the position we’re in.’
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, an outspoken critic of China who has been sanctioned by Beijing, said there were ‘big questions to be asked about parliamentary security’.
He also warned Britain had been ‘deeply penetrated by the Chinese because of our ambivalent attitude towards them’, as he demanded a ‘change in position’ from the Government towards Beijing.
Sir Iain told Times Radio: ‘It is a significant breach in security. It’s a significant breach in security in parliamentary terms.
‘So there are big questions to be asked about parliamentary security, about the vetting of people who work for different groups that are made up of parliamentarians.’
He added: ‘I think we are deeply penetrated by the Chinese because of our ambivalent attitude towards them. Therefore, people tend to turn a blind eye.
‘You know, people like me get criticised because we make too much of this and then you see this happening.
‘If you can penetrate parliament like this over such a long period of time… then how many other institutions with less levels of security are being penetrated on a daily basis?’