In a recent development, the Conservative Party has reportedly dropped two potential candidates for MP positions following warnings from MI5 that they could have ties to Chinese espionage. This news comes amidst growing concerns about alleged espionage activities within Westminster, notably the arrest of a parliamentary researcher suspected of spying for Beijing.
MI5’s Advisory on Candidate Selection
According to The Times, the UK’s security service, MI5, provided counsel to the Conservative Party in both 2021 and 2022, strongly advising against including two aspiring MPs on their central list of candidates. MI5 expressed apprehensions regarding these individuals’ connections to the United Front Work Department, a significant branch of the Chinese Communist Party, leading to their exclusion from the list.
An unnamed source cited by the newspaper stated, “It was made very clear that they posed a risk. They were subsequently blocked from the candidates list, and they weren’t told why.”
Conservative Party’s Response
In response to the revelations, a spokesperson from the Conservative Party affirmed their commitment to acting on credible security concerns regarding potential candidates. The party employs a rigorous vetting process, including criminal record checks and interviews, for all prospective candidates.
A source within the party disclosed to The Times that MI5 has, in the past, provided guidance when they had reservations about candidates.
Heightened Concerns Surrounding UK-China Relations
These developments are set to intensify debates concerning the United Kingdom’s relationship with China, particularly following the arrest of a parliamentary researcher under the Official Secrets Act. Both individuals were detained on suspicion of engaging in activities deemed “prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state.”
The researcher’s connections with prominent Tories, such as security minister Tom Tugendhat and Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns, have further escalated tensions.
Calls for a Stronger Stance
Critics within the Conservative Party, often referred to as “hawks” on China policy, are exerting pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to adopt a more assertive approach towards Beijing. Notably, James Cleverly’s recent visit to China marked the first by a Foreign Secretary in half a decade, signaling efforts to cultivate a more pragmatic relationship with the nation.
Prime Minister Sunak has stated that the issue of Chinese interference in UK democratic institutions was discussed during Cleverly’s trip and reinforced at the G20 summit. However, questions linger among Members of Parliament about whether it took the public disclosure of the March arrest for these concerns to be raised.
Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden has indicated that ministers may contemplate a more robust stance on China in light of recent developments.