A security warning from MI5 has been circulated to MPs and peers claiming that a female Chinese national has been seeking to improperly influence parliamentarians.
The “interference alert” names an individual “knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist party” with MI5’s logo at the top.
It added that the UFWD “is seeking to covertly interfere in UK politics through establishing links with established and aspiring parliamentarians across the political spectrum” and to “cultivate relationships with influential figures”.
It was shared in an email from the Speaker’s office to MPs. The authorities added that the individual has “facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China”.
Moments after being sent, the unexpected warning was discussed in the Commons chamber, with MPs Iain Duncan Smith and Tobias Ellwood demanding urgent updates from the government in a point of order.
“The key issue here is I understand that Mr Speaker has been contacted by MI5 and is now warning members of parliament that there has been an agent of the Chinese government active here in parliament,” Duncan Smith said.
Interference alerts are only issued very rarely after talks between the spy agencies and parliamentary authorities. No such alerts relating to China have ever been released – and only one relating to Russia, a source said.
It is understood that politicians across the political spectrum may have been targeted in an exercise that has been monitored by MI5 for some time. “This has not been about targeting the government in particular,” the source added.
Despite the warning, however, it is understood that the individual concerned is not being expelled or prosecuted. The person does not work at the Chinese embassy.
Concerns about Chinese espionage have been growing among Britain’s intelligence community. Late last year Richard Moore, the head of MI6, said China had become the foreign intelligence agency’s “single greatest priority” for the first time in its history.
In 2020, Britain quietly expelled three alleged Chinese spies who it said were posing as journalists. MI5 concluded the three worked for China’s powerful Ministry of State Security (MSS), although claims of espionage are typically rejected by Beijing.