LABOUR MP Barry Gardiner has denied that any colleagues were put at risk by his relationship with Chinese “agent” Christine Lee – and refused to say whether he regretted it.
The former Labour frontbencher left his £900,000 semi-detached house in Wembley, north west London, this morning and spoke to The Sun but refused to answer a number of important questions before quickly darting to his car and driving off to work.
MI5 yesterday accused Labour donor Christine Lee of channelling cash from Beijing to influence parliament as it publicly warned MPs and peers to avoid her.
When asked if the relationship had put any colleagues at threat, Mr Gardiner said: “I’m quite confident that nothing I have done has put any of my colleagues at jeopardy.”
He refused to say whether he regretted it or whether Lee’s son, Daniel Wilkes, who worked for him as diary manager, was the most suitable person for the job.
He also refused to comment when pressed on the seriousness of the MI5 warning which was issued yesterday to MPs.
He briefly said he had already made a public statement before quickly going to his car, using his House of Commons pass to wipe the windscreen, before leaving for work.
The Chinese lawyer has donated nearly £700,000 to the Labour Party, mostly through the office of Corbynista MP Barry Gardiner, who until confronted by the Security Services yesterday, employed her son.
But Lib Dem leader Ed Davey also accepted a £5,000 donation from Lee’s law firm while in the Cabinet, and Theresa May handed her a peace prize — which was last night rescinded.
Lee has been snapped with ex-Tory PM David Cameron, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his then deputy Tom Watson but was yesterday exposed as an agent of the Chinese Communist Party.
Tensions between the UK and China have been stretched recently by the superpower’s Covid lies, dire human rights abuses and escalating espionage attacks.
PM Boris Johnson warned late last year that China was never going to evolve towards being a free market democracy.
But in a dramatic hardening of relations with Beijing, MI5 publicly blew the whistle on the suspected agent after years of investigation of her activities in Westminster.
In an extremely rare move, the Security Service issued an alert and picture of Lee, accusing her of “facilitating financial donations to serving and aspiring politicians”.
Lee, who has also been snapped shaking hands with China’s leader Xi Jinping, has been a long-time funder of Mr Gardiner’s office through her law firm Christine Lee & Co, which also works for the Chinese Embassy in London.
Since 2005, she has donated £675,586.88 to either Mr Gardiner’s office or local labour parties. Ahead of the 2019 election, she handed the central party a £5,000 cash donation. She mainly began funding Mr Gardiner in September 2015, soon after the Brent North MP became shadow minister for energy.
That included £182,284 to pay the wages of two of Mr Gardiner’s Westminster aides — one of whom was Lee’s son, Daniel Wilkes.
Last night, shame-faced Mr Gardiner claimed he had not discussed policy with Lee in great detail but had spoken to her this week.
Pressed on whether he knew what was coming from MI5, he replied: “Absolutely not. The first I heard of it was today.
“What we spoke about earlier this week was actually the situation of my parents-in-law, who are elderly and ill. She had expressed concern as to their wellbeing and that’s what we spoke about.”
He said Lee’s son resigned earlier that day and had no knowledge of his mother’s activities.
But the Interference Alert sent to MPs and Peers by the Security Service warned that Lee had been attempting to influence politicians from across the political divide.
The warning said she had been “engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, engaging with Members here at Parliament and associated political entities”.
It also said she has acted covertly in co-ordination with the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party.
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle told MPs: “This facilitation was done covertly to mask the origins of the payments.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Forthcoming measures to counter these kind of threats will build on the robust safeguards already in place, making our country even harder for states to conduct hostile activity in.” Ex-Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who has been sanctioned by China, said he feared MPs’ offices had been compromised.
Tory MP Bob Seely said: “It’s clearly serious that there appear to be actual agents of a foreign, adversarial power in Parliament.”
Last night, Mr Gardiner said he had been “liaising with our Security Services for a number of years about Christine Lee and they have always known, and been made fully aware by me, of her engagement with my office and the donations she made”.
He added: “Steps were taken to ensure Christine Lee had no role in either the appointment or management of those researchers. They are also aware I have not benefited personally from those donations in any way. She ceased funding any workers in my office in June 2020.
“All the donations were properly reported in the register of members’ interests and their source verified at the time.”
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey received a £5,000 donation from Ms Lee in 2013 when he was Energy Secretary in the coalition.
A spokesman for Sir Ed said it was “reported properly and all rules and guidance was followed”.
No MPs are suspected of criminality. Lee has not been arrested but is under investigation. She is believed to still be in the UK.