Sunak confronts China at G20 after Westminster spy arrest

Defence and security Policy & Politics Westminster Whitehall

Rishi Sunak has told the Chinese premier he has “serious concerns” about Beijing’s interference in Britain’s democracy after police arrested a suspected Westminster spy working for China.

Sunak challenged Li Qiang, China’s premier at the end of the G20 summit in Delhi, following a report by the Sunday Times of the arrest of a parliamentary researcher.

The Guardian reports that MPs are angered and alarmed by the news that the suspected Westminster spy had links with senior Conservatives and a parliamentary pass giving him “unescorted access to large parts of the Westminster estate.”

The man, aged 27, has held the pass for several years and has previously lived and worked in China. He was arrested on the same day as another suspect, believed to be a university academic, in March this year, on suspicion of spying for China. Both have been bailed until early October.

The Financial Times and other media outlets state the alleged Westminster spy has links to security minister Tom Tugendhat and Alicia Kearns, the chair of the Common’s foreign affairs committee.

The arrests are set to be the first of many, according to a report in the Telegraph which says British intelligence services “are poised to unmask a number of Chinese spies in the coming months”.

There is concern that a “network of operatives” is working in Westminster for foreign states. Whitehall sources said suspected spies working in the Commons face arrest under new espionage legislation.

In July, parliament’s intelligence and security committee published a scathing report on the British government’s “completely inadequate” response to China’s “increasingly sophisticated” espionage.

James Cleverly’s trip to China in July was the first by a UK foreign secretary to Beijing in five years. Cleverly held a series of meetings with Chinese ministers and drew criticism for saying it is not “credible” to disengage from China, the world’s second largest economy – a view, the Guardian reminds, that was publicly endorsed by Sunak.

Speaking in Delhi today, following his meeting with China’s premier, Sunak said he “very specifically” raised “a range of different concerns that we have in areas of disagreement, and in particular, my very strong concerns about any interference in our parliamentary democracy, which is obviously unacceptable.”

Former Conservative party leader and fierce China-critic Sir Iain Duncan Smith spoke to Times Radio after news about the suspected Westminster spy broke, and said: “I think we are deeply penetrated by the Chinese because of our ambivalent attitude towards them. 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 [tight] levels of security are being penetrated on a daily basis?”

Smith added: “China is determined to undermine the UK.”

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