New curbs on Chinese influence could be considered as ministers continue to face questions about espionage allegations at Westminster.
The arrest of a parliamentary researcher under the Official Secrets Act has reignited debates over Britain’s relationship with Beijing, with some Tory MPs urging Rishi Sunak to label China a “threat”.
The public confirmation of the arrest came just weeks after James Cleverly became the first foreign minister in five years to visit China in a bid to forge more pragmatic relations with the country.
Mr Sunak insisted on Monday that Mr Cleverly had raised the issue of Chinese interference in the UK’s democratic institutions during his recent trip and that he had “reaffirmed” this at the G20 summit.
However, MPs questioned whether it was necessary for reports of the March arrest to be made public so that the Prime Minister could raise concerns.
Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden signaled that ministers could consider taking a tougher stance on China following the row.
He told MPs on Monday that there was a “strong case” for classifying China in the “enhanced tier” of countries under the new national security law.
This would result in China being designated as “a potential risk to the security or interests of the UK” and requiring anyone working in the UK “at the direction” of Beijing to submit to the “foreign influence registration system”.
Failure to do so could result in a person being sentenced to up to five years in prison.
In the House of Commons, Mr Dowden has not committed to such a move, but Mr Sunak is likely to continue to face questions about the government’s response as he prepares to take over as cabinet chair later on.
The man at the center of the allegations maintains he is “completely innocent” and said he has spent his career highlighting the “challenges and threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.”
In a statement released by his lawyers, the 28-year-old researcher – who has not been officially named by police or MPs – said: “I feel compelled to respond to media allegations that I am a ‘Chinese spy’.”
“It is wrong that I should be required to make any public statement about the hoaxes that have taken place.
“However, given the reports, it is important that it be known that I am completely innocent.
“I have spent my career educating others about the challenges and threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.
“Doing what I’m accused of in the extravagant reporting would be against everything I stand for.”
The Briton was arrested along with another man by officials on March 13 on suspicion of spying for Beijing, the Sunday Times revealed.
Officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Counter-Terrorism Command, which monitors espionage crimes, are investigating.
One of the men, in his 30s, was arrested in Oxfordshire on March 13, while the other, in his 20s, was arrested in Edinburgh, Scotland Yard said.
Both were held on suspicion of offenses under Section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1911, which punishes offenses alleged to be “prejudicial to the security or interests of the State”.
They were released on bail until early October.
The arrests were only revealed over the weekend and the researcher at the center of the row had links to senior Tories including Security Secretary Tom Stimmehat and Foreign Affairs Committee chair Alicia Kearns.
The allegations have led to increasing pressure from “hawks” on the Tory benches, including former prime minister Liz Truss, on Mr Sunak to not just describe China as a “challenge” but instead describe the state as a “threat”. to call.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, one of China’s most vocal critics in the House of Commons, told Channel 4 News his fears that there could be a “spy ring” based in Westminster.
https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/oliver-dowden-james-cleverly-chinese-mps-rishi-sunak-b1106357.html Sunak is under pressure to act in the dispute over an alleged Chinese spy