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‘Major escalation’: Sunak confronts China after Parliament ‘spy’ suspect arrested

Rishi Sunak has raised “very strong concerns” with Beijing about China’s alleged interference in the UK parliament.

The prime minister told reporters yesterday that he had confronted Chinese premier Li Qiang at the G20 summit in India, after The Sunday Times reported that a parliamentary researcher with links to several senior Tory MPs was arrested under the Official Secrets Act.

According to the paper, the researcher was “linked” to Alicia Kearns, chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, and also had “limited contact” with Tom Tugendhat before the now security minister ran for Tory leader last year.

Counterterrorism police arrested the suspect, said to be in his 20s, and another man in his 30s on suspicion of espionage-related offences in March. In a statement released today by his lawyers that did not name him, the researcher, who was bailed until early October, insisted that he was “completely innocent”.

Angry MPs who have been sanctioned by China also spoke out, claiming “they were kept in the dark about the case for months”, the London Evening Standard reported. “Who knew what, when?” asked Tory MP Tim Loughton on Times Radio.

A senior Whitehall source told The Sunday Times that the alleged espionage marked “a major escalation” by China, adding: “We have never seen anything like this before.”

The arrests, said the BBC, have “renewed a debate which has been raging in the Conservative Party for months”, about whether the government should “take a stricter approach on China”.

But Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch told Sky News this morning that China should not be viewed as a “foe” but rather a “challenge”. And Sunak told reporters in New Delhi that his meeting with Li was an example of the benefits of his policy of engagement rather than “shouting from the sidelines”.

China’s embassy in the UK dismissed the spying claims as “malicious slander” and a “political farce”.

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