Exclusive: The solicitor tried to steer MPs language on sensitive infrastructure investment including nuclear power, it is alleged
Christine Lee, a woman accused of seeking covert influence over British lawmakers, lobbied parliamentary figures over Chinese investment interests in nuclear power and battery technology, The Independent understands.
Ms Lee, who has been accused by security agency MI5 of “political interference”, directly and indirectly tried to shift language from MPs on a host of issues related to critical national infrastructure, including energy, manufacturing and telecoms, sources told The Independent.
The warning message to MPs said Ms Lee had engaged with “individuals across the UK political spectrum” in order to further the Chinese Communist Party’s agenda.
Issues Ms Lee tried to steer included China’s involvement in Hinkley C nuclear power station and Sizewell, it is claimed. She is understood to have sought influence with a range of British lawmakers including Labour MP Barry Gardiner.
Ms Lee donated more than £500,000 to fund Mr Gardiner’s office, records show. Her son worked for the MP until Thursday morning though he was not named in the communication from the parliamentary authorities.
Mr Gardiner told Sky News on Thursday that he had spoken “openly and frankly” with the security services about his relationship with Ms Lee over several years and had never been warned off involvement with the female solicitor.
He said he had not had any knowledge of “Christine Lee being a spy” until this morning. He added any discussions with Ms Lee on government policy were had “not in great detail”.
Mr Gardiner spoke in favour of retaining Chinese involvement in Hinkley C, while serving as Labour’s shadow secretary of state for trade and a shadow minister for business and energy in September 2016.
He said: “They [the government] risked a diplomatic dispute with one of our key future trading partners, and in the end all they have done is pretend to give themselves powers that they already possessed.”
The MP also made a host of supportive remarks in response to a ministerial statement on a review of an £18 billion deal to build nuclear energy capacity in Somerset could pose any risks to security.
Mr Gardiner criticised the government’s steps made to ensure that it could intervene in the sale of the French energy firm EDF’s stake in the critical infrastructure once it was completed. This step was aimed at preventing it from falling into Chinese ownership, according to a person with knowledge of the review.
The then shadow secretary of state said: “…of course every Member of the House agrees that the Government’s primary responsibility is to safeguard our national security, but neither the Secretary of State nor the Prime Minister has ever been clear about what they consider to be the security risks associated with the current deal.”
Mr Gardiner then suggested that Chinese involvement in the UK nuclear project did not pose a threat to sensitive intellectual property – a frequent charge levied at China’s state-owned enterprises.
The MP also said that there was no cybersecurity risk arising from Chinese involvement because the project was “a kitemark for marketing their Hualong One reactor technology around the world” and therefore “such an attack would undermine the very reason the Chinese wanted to be involved in the project in the first place?”.
Senior Tory MP Sir Ian Duncan Smith told Sky News that Mr Gardiner need to “open up” all of his correspondence with Ms Lee. Sir Ed Davey received a donation of £5,000 from Ms Lee in 2013 when he was energy secretary in the coalition government. A Lib Dem spokesperson said Sir Ed was “shocked by these revelations”.
In 2019, then-prime minister Theresa May presented Ms Lee with and an award for building connections between the Chinese community and wider UK society.