A former top civil servant was blasted today for downplaying fears of Chinese spying in Westminster.
Lord McDonald, the former permanent secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, suggested MPs may have overreacted to reports that a former researcher was arrested on suspicion of being a Beijing agent – a charge he denies.
A report by The Times this week also said two potential Conservative candidates to become MPs were dropped by the party after MI5 warned they could be Chinese spies.
But the crossbench peer was criticised after telling the BBC it was a ‘legitimate objective’ of any foreign power ‘to find out what is happening in Westminster’.
He also suggested the UK should have the same rules and standards for China as it has for allies like the United States and France.
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who has been sanctioned by Beijing for criticising human rights abuses in China, labelled the remarks ‘utterly complacent’.
‘China cannot be compared to our allies. It is a regime guilty of genocide of the Uyghur, invasion and militarisation of the South China seas, persecution of democracy campaigners and organ harvesting of religious minorities and threats to invade Taiwan,’ he said.
Lord McDonald, the former permanent secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, suggested Parliament may have overreacted to reports that a former researcher was arrested on suspicion of being a Beijing agent
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who has been sanctioned by Beijing over his comments on human rights abuses in China, labelled the remarks ‘utterly complacent’.
‘In light of the threat China now poses to us and our allies, and the naked attempt to interfere in our democratic processes, such comments are sadly only too redolent of the mistaken policy of appeasement of earlier times.’
Lord McDonald was the top civil servant at the FCO under three prime ministers – David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson – at a time when there was a conscious effort for détente with Beijing.
In May this year he warned that the UK should not ‘make an enemy’ of China.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme today he said: ‘Of course we see that China is active but so are friendly countries, and I do not think we can have one rule for United States and France and Germany and another for China. We have to be consistent in our approach with all embassies.’
It came after it was revealed at the weekend that a former researcher to Tory MPs was held on suspicion of breaching the Official Secrets Act in March. He has since spoken to declare his innocence of any worngdoing.
Asked whether he was saying MPs had overreacted to the news, Lord McDonald added: ‘I think that is a possibility.
‘Parliament is essentially an unclassified environment, so it would need to take a deep breath and think what the potential damage, and if it is not great then we can dial down our reaction.’
It is the latest controversial comment by the peer this week. On Monday he sparked calls for the reform of the Civil Service yesterday after he appeared to admit breaking impartiality rules over Brexit.
In an extraordinary revelation, he said he had told staff he voted Remain in the wake of the 2016 referendum to show solidarity with his shell-shocked officials.
Lord McDonald said the move was necessary to ‘maintain credibility’ in a department which was left ‘in mourning’ after Britain voted to leave the EU.
He admitted that the Foreign Office’s board was ‘not entirely comfortable’ with his decision to reveal to staff and ministers how he had voted.
His decision appeared to be in breach of the Civil Service code and fuelled concerns that senior officials tried to frustrate Brexit.
Former Cabinet minister Liam Fox described Sir Simon’s comments as ‘completely inappropriate’.
China has tried to ‘headhunt’ British nationals in ‘key positions with sensitive knowledge and experience’ including from Government and the military, the Government admitted today.
Responding to a highly critical report into its efforts to stem the spread of China’s power in the UK, the Government said some of the Communist regime’s actions ‘crosses the line from influence to interference.’
Easier this year the all-party Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) warned Britain faces a ‘nightmare scenario’ of China controlling our nuclear power stations, universities and technology sector.
It accused the Government of responding at a ‘glacial pace’ to the issues.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak today insisted he was ‘clear-eyed about that challenge’ posed by the autocratic Asian giant. But in its response to the report, the Government insisted it would seek a ‘positive trade and investment relationship’ with the economic superpower where it could.