MPs' fury after Speaker warns them not to name suspected China agent

Don’t mention the ‘spy’! MPs’ fury after Speaker warns them not to name suspected China agent in House of Commons

MPs reacted furiously last night after they were warned against identifying a suspected ‘Chinese spy’ in the Commons.

In farcical scenes, the Speaker told them not to name the researcher at the centre of the claims despite a national newspaper publishing his picture.

One Tory argued that it made ‘a mockery’ of Parliament’s reputation as the ‘bastion of free speech’. Another said it meant MPs were the only people in Britain unable to debate it.

It emerged over the weekend that a parliamentary researcher with links to several senior Conservatives was arrested on suspicion of spying for Beijing.

MPs were determined to name him in the Commons, but Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle warned that discussing the identities of those involved could hamper any future prosecution. In other developments yesterday: ? The arrested 28-year-old researcher, who has not been charged or named by police, insisted he is completely innocent.

In a statement issued through his lawyers, he said he has spent his career highlighting the ‘challenge and threats presented by the Chinese Communist Party’.

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle issued a stern warning to Tory MPs considering identifying a suspected China spy in the House of Commons yesterday

The allegations have led to more pressure from Tory China critics for Rishi Sunak (pictured yesterday) to toughen his stance on Beijing

Ministers came under pressure to reveal when they first knew about allegations of Chinese espionage in Westminster and how they responded.

MPs lined up in the Commons to pressure Rishi Sunak to designate China as a ‘threat’ to the UK.

Politicians also criticised the failure to brief MPs about the arrest of the suspected ‘spy’ before it was revealed in a newspaper at the weekend.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said the Government is reviewing whether to place China in the ‘enhanced tier’ of a new UK scheme requiring people to register if they are working for a foreign state.

The Prime Minister insisted he was ’emphatic’ with Chinese premier Li Qiang during a meeting at the G20 summit in India on Sunday that ‘actions which seek to undermine British democracy are completely unacceptable and will never be tolerated’.

And in a toughening of the language used by ministers, Mr Dowden said China represents ‘a systemic challenge to our interests and values’ and branded Beijing ‘the number one state-based threat’ to the UK’s economic security.

But Sir Lindsay told the Commons at the start of proceedings: ‘I would remind all members of the importance of not discussing security issues on the floor of the House. That is particularly important in this case, where commenting on the identities of those alleged to be involved, engaging in speculation about the case or discussing other details runs a serious risk of prejudicing any future prosecutions.’

The Daily Mail has chosen not to identify the parliamentary researcher for legal reasons – but another national newspaper has published his name and picture.

A senior Tory MP last night questioned who was advising the Speaker to make the ruling, saying: ‘Parliament is supposed to have free speech – this makes a mockery of it.’

Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who has been sanctioned by China, said the public would wonder why Parliament could not discuss the suspect.

He did not criticise the Speaker, but said the ruling left MPs ‘hamstrung’ and they would continue to push to name him. ‘It’s out there: The public can see it, read it and debate it, but we’re the only ones in Britain who can’t. Parliament not being able to say it makes it look like Parliament is behind the curve.’

Tory former minister Tim Loughton, who has also been sanctioned by China, told the Commons: ‘I found out more about this character involved from my son, who just happened to be at university with him, than anything I’ve been told formally.’

Mr Loughton said there had been ‘no consequences’ for incidents and allegations of concern in the past year linked to China, adding: ‘Is not the problem that for all the tough talk there are no consequences and the Chinese know that there will be no consequences? So specifically, will China be in the enhanced tier of the foreign agents registration scheme?’

Mr Dowden replied: ‘We are currently reviewing which countries are in that enhanced tier, but I think there is a strong case to be made, but he would not expect me to make that announcement until we’ve gone through the proper process.’

The parliamentary researcher – who had links with security minister Tom Tugendhat and foreign affairs committee chairman Alicia Kearns – was arrested along with another man, in his 30s, by officers on March 13 on suspicion of spying for Beijing, the Sunday Times revealed.

Both men were held on suspicion of offences under Section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1911, which punishes offences that are said to be ‘prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state’. They have been bailed until early October.

The allegations have led to more pressure from Tory China critics for Mr Sunak to toughen his stance on Beijing.

Yesterday former prime minister Liz Truss asked Mr Dowden: ‘Does he agree that what we need to do is to recognise that China is the largest threat, both to the world and to the United Kingdom, for freedom and democracy?’

The suspect has links to several senior Tory MPs, including security minister Tom Tugendhat (left) and foreign affairs committee chairman Alicia Kearns (right), a vocal China critic

A bitter blame game has broken out after it emerged a Parliamentary researcher was arrested in March 

Mr Dowden replied: ‘She is absolutely right that China represents a systemic challenge to our interests and values, and it is also … the number one state-based threat to our economic security.

‘The Government is absolutely clear-eyed about the threats that this nation faces and robust in taking action.’

Writing in her column in today’s Daily Mail, former Tory Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries criticises Conservative MP Ms Kearns.

She says her appointment as chairman of the foreign affairs committee was a ‘travesty’, adding: ‘The fall-out of electing someone as inexperienced and, frankly, as unsuitable as Alicia to the role may well come back to haunt us.’

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