Former Cabinet minister feared media sting was foreign spy operation

Updated: 
Tory former Cabinet ministers Lord Lansley, Andrew Mitchell and Peter Lilley
Tory former Cabinet ministers Lord Lansley, Andrew Mitchell and Peter Lilley

A former Cabinet minister caught up in a media sting has indicated he involved British intelligence agencies because he feared he was being targeted by foreign spies.

Andrew Mitchell is one of three former senior ministers alongside Andrew Lansley and Peter Lilley who have denied wrong-doing following an investigation by Channel 4's Dispatches into Brexit lobbying

The programme, Politicians For Hire: Cashing In On Brexit, was scheduled to air on Monday and the broadcaster said it raised "important questions about transparency and accountability in public life".

Mr Mitchell, a former international development minister said he "smelt a rat" within minutes of arriving at the October meeting in St James's in Mayfair that he was the "target of a sting".

In an article for the Mail on Sunday, he said he was approached by woman calling herself Fei Liu who said she represented Chinese investors through a Hong Kong-based consultancy.

Mr Mitchell said he launched his own investigation into the company and asked friends in Hong Kong to visit the address he had been given.

After being told it looked "decidedly dodgy" he "contacted someone I know in what I will call 'the British authorities' and said I was worried I was the target of an attempted entrapment".

He added: "They eventually came back to me and said I was right, but it was not a foreign power so they had no further interest. On December 5, I complained to the Chinese ambassador in London, Liu Xiaoming."

Lord Lansley has referred himself to Parliament's standards watchdog.

The former Health Secretary has been under-going treatment for cancer after being diagnosed last summer.

A spokesman for the peer said: "Lord Lansley made clear at all times that any work that he carries out has to comply with the House of Lords Code of Conduct Rules and that any contract would have to have that code written into it.

"He has always kept his outside interests separate from his Parliamentary duties and at no time did he offer any privileged access, insider information, lobbying activity, parliamentary advice or services.

"Lord Lansley has already referred himself to the Lords Commissioner for Standards over this matter and is confident that she will dismiss these allegations as groundless.

"Lord Lansley made clear at all times that any work that he carries out has to comply with the House of Lords Code of Conduct Rules and that any contract would have to have that code written into it.

"He has always kept his outside interests separate from his Parliamentary duties and at no time did he offer any privileged access, insider information, lobbying activity, parliamentary advice or services.

"Lord Lansley has already referred himself to the Lords Commissioner for Standards over this matter and is confident that she will dismiss these allegations as groundless."

Mr Lilley said he did "nothing improper whatsoever".

"It was a tawdry attempt at entrapment and I did nothing improper whatsoever. I thought it might be a sting from the beginning," he told the Mail on Sunday.

"They said they had a budget of £18,000 but I told them I was already on the advisory board of a Chinese company, that I was comfortably off and I did not pursue the matter."

A Channel 4 spokeswoman said: "This investigation raises important questions about transparency and accountability in public life. We are continuing to work on the film which will be broadcast soon."