LONDON — A suspected Chinese spy met with a U.K. government minister to discuss amendments to a key piece of legislation related to China, three people with knowledge of the meeting told POLITICO.
The man in his 20s — who was arrested in March on suspicion of espionage, but has not been charged and is protesting his innocence — worked as a parliamentary researcher in the House of Commons.
He accompanied a Tory MP to meet Cabinet Office minister Alex Burghart earlier this year to discuss the MP’s proposed amendments to the Procurement Bill, which were designed to toughen up U.K. policy toward China.
The Procurement Bill introduces new rules for firms competing for government contacts, and strengthens ministers’ powers to exclude companies that are deemed a national security risk.
A Whitehall official said no sensitive government information was discussed at the meeting, which took place in parliament and lasted less than an hour.
The researcher has not been charged with any crime and has insisted in a statement through his lawyers that he is “completely innocent.” He has been released on police bail until October. He was arrested alongside another man in his 30s under the Official Secrets Act in March, police confirmed following a bombshell report in the Sunday Times last weekend.
In June, U.K. ministers agreed to amend the Procurement Bill following pressure from China hawks on the Tory backbenches.
The changes included a commitment to publish a timeline for the removal of security cameras made by companies subject to China’s national security laws from “sensitive central government sites.”
The U.K. government also agreed to create a National Security Procurement Unit to oversee future procurement decisions through a national security lens.
The Bill was due to be approved by the House of Commons this week in its amended form.
The researcher’s lawyers did not respond to a request for comment. The Cabinet Office declined to comment.