A British parliamentary researcher and MP aide was arrested by counterterrorism police along with one other suspect on suspicion of spying for China, the Times exclusively revealed. He has now been identified as Chris Cash – but who is he and what do we know about him?
The Times is reporting the case as allegedly being “one of the most serious breaches of security involving a hostile state at Westminster”.
Cash, 28, held a parliamentary pass and was connected to senior Conservative MPs including Tom Tugendhat and Alicia Kearns, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee.
It is understood that he previously worked in China where he is likely to have been recruited as a ‘sleeper agent’ to infiltrate the heart of British politics.
It appears that the incident has been ‘hidden’ by officials until now, with the arrests taking place in March of this year.
Cash was arrested in Edinburgh, with his home in London searched by police.
A second suspect was arrested in Oxfordshire.
Scotland Yard said in a statement: “Officers from the Metropolitan Police arrested two men on March 13 on suspicion of offences under section one of the Official Secrets Act 1911.
“A man in his thirties was arrested at an address in Oxfordshire and a man in his twenties was arrested at an address in Edinburgh. Searches were also carried out at both the residential properties, as well as at a third address in east London. Both men were taken to a south London police station and were released on police bail until a date in early October.”
The Times reports that inquiries are ongoing and the case is being handled by the Met’s counterterrorism command.
The Sunday Times revealed Cash’s identity, reporting that he is allegedly the director of a China-focused think tank co-founded by several high-profile conservative lawmakers.
A history graduate, Chris Cash, the son of a GP, was a fixture on the parliamentary social scene, frequently rubbing elbows with civil servants, aides, researchers, and journalists. One political reporter for The Sun revealed on Sunday that she’d previously matched with the alleged spy on the dating app Hinge.
“I had a lucky escape with Mr X,” she wrote, explaining that they’d never actually gone on a date, “but what if the next person, or the country, doesn’t?”
A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in the U.K. released a statement late Sunday night strongly denying the accusations that the country was involved in an espionage scheme involving Cash, calling them “malicious slander.” As with Russia, China has a long history of denying any involvement in spying, despite a wealth of evidence proving otherwise.
“The so-called claim that China is suspected of ‘stealing British intelligence’ is completely fabricated and malicious slander. We firmly oppose it,” an embassy spokesperson said. “We urge relevant parties in the U.K. to stop anti-China political manipulation and stop this self-directed and self-acted political farce.”
Chris Cash led the China Research Group, a body “widely seen as advocating a more ‘hawkish’ British policy towards China,” according to a 2021 academic paper. The group was co-founded by Tory ministers Tom Tugendhat and Neil O’Brien in April 2020.
The ‘pro-China’ group’s website states that it was founded to “promote debate and fresh thinking about how Britain should respond to the rise of China,” focusing on industrial, technological, and foreign policy issues.
Tugendhat, a frequent Beijing critic who became the British security minister last September, had “infrequent” contact with Cash during his time as director of the CRG, according to The Sunday Times. The two have reportedly had no contact since Tugendhat’s elevation to the Cabinet position.
Cash held a parliamentary pass but did not have security clearance, according to The Sunday Times.
“I’m in a complete state of shock. We weren’t told about this, we haven’t been given any support,” one MP sanctioned by China told the Times. “All sanctioned MPs should have been told. How many more people are there in parliament who might be targeting us?”
Another MP complained that “Alicia [Kearns] didn’t tell anyone” about the matter, adding, “We’re all really pissed off. She’s been a nightmare on this.”
A source close to Kearns told The Sunday Times that it was “preposterous” to suggest she could have come forward or discussed the case previously, saying anyone who says otherwise has “zero understanding of legal investigations or intelligence work.”
Two hours before The Sunday Times identified Cash, Kearns addressed the paper’s report of his arrest. “I will not be commenting,” she tweeted. “While I recognise the public interest, we all have a duty to ensure any work of the Authorities is not jeopardized.”
In an accompanying editorial The Sunday Times said that Cash had had helped Kearns with her campaign to lead the foreign affairs committee, even drafting briefing notes for her.
Cash grew up in Edinburgh and studied history at the University of St. Andrews. He later taught English literature with the British Council in Hangzhou, China, before returning to the U.K. for a postgraduate degree in Chinese and globalization studies at King’s College London, according to one biography.
He was hired to work as the CRG’s researcher in 2021. Exploiting the media, Cash has even helped influence public opinion about China, with The Times of London and the i newspaper quoting him as an expert on China.
On Twitter, Cash also bragged about his job, calling it “one of the most dynamic, rewarding roles going in Parliament.”
“Lots of exciting projects in the pipeline,” he added.
Cash has since deleted his Twitter account.