1 of 2 | Counter-terrorism police in Britain have arrested two men, one of whom was a researcher in Parliament, under the Official Secrets Act on suspicion of spying for China. File Photo by Andy Rain/EPA-EFE
Sept. 11 (UPI) -- A researcher in Britain's parliament is being investigated by counter-terrorism police after being arrested on suspicion of spying for China.
The man, who is in his 20s and detained in Edinburgh, 410 miles north of London, under the Official Secrets Act, had links to senior conservative MPs involved in foreign policy-making and a security clearance that gave him access to possibly sensitive information.
A second man in his 30s was arrested in Oxford, also under the anti-espionage legislation, London's Metropolitan Police told UPI.
The arrests took place back in March with both men having been freed on bail until a date in early October.
"The investigation is being carried out by officers from the Met's Counter Terrorism Command, which has responsibility for investigations relating to allegations of Official Secrets Act and espionage-related offenses," said the Met.
The researcher had access to security minister Tom Tugendhat, foreign affairs committee chair Alicia Kearns and others, the Sunday Times first reported. The two MPs, both outspoken critics of China, have yet to respond.
Hours later, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak challenged China over "interference" in British democracy in a meeting Sunday with Chinese Premier Li Qiang on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi.
"I obviously can't comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation but with regard to my meeting with Premier Li, what I said very specifically is that I raised a range of different concerns that we have in areas of disagreement, and in particular, my very strong concerns about any interference in our parliamentary democracy, which is obviously unacceptable."
China's version of the meeting made no mention of the issue but its embassy in London forcefully denied the accusation.
"The claim that China is suspected of 'stealing British intelligence' is completely fabricated and nothing but malicious slander," an embassy spokesperson said.
"We firmly oppose it and urge relevant parties in the U.K. to stop their anti-China political manipulation and stop putting on such self-staged political farce."
The Hong Kong-born former international development minister Rory Stewart said Britain must take the issue of protecting itself from Chinese and Russian espionage efforts much more seriously.
"It's in the interests of authoritarian states to weaken countries like the United Kingdom, so we should be very, very cautious," he said.
"People with strong links to the Chinese Communist Party have been giving money to Labour MPs and employing former Conservative MPs," he added, calling for an urgent review of the issuing of parliamentary passes and the way MPs are funded.