Sir Keir Starmer accused Rishi Sunak of failing to protect the UK from "hostile actors" amid concerns his government is not doing enough to curb threats from China.

The Labour leader pressed Mr Sunak on the matter at Prime Minister's Questions today in the Commons days after it emerged a Conservative parliamentary researcher was arrested in March on suspicion of spying for the foreign power. The man, in his twenties from Edinburgh, denies the accusations and has insisted he is 'completely innocent.'

The Commons intelligence and security committee gave a highly critical assessment of what work the government was doing to counter security, economic and political threats from China when it published its report on the issue in July.

"The Government says its response is “robust” and “clear-eyed ”. The External Experts we spoke to were rather less complimentary. While we sought to examine whether the Government’s strategy for dealing with such a large adversary was up to the task, they felt very strongly that HMG did not have any strategy on China, let alone an effective one, and that it was singularly failing to deploy a ‘whole-of-government’ approach when countering the threat from China – a damning appraisal indeed," the MPs' report said.

On Monday MPs confronted ministers on why they had not been told of the arrest of the parliamentary researcher and another man in March.

Mr Starmer took up the issue again this afternoon and said it was a "serious security concern", saying some MPs face sanctions, intimidation and threats from the Chinese state.

He said: "When I asked the Prime Minister on Monday whether the Foreign Secretary raised the specific issue of the alleged spy arrested in March when he visited China a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister would only say that he raised that 'type of activity' but avoided specifics.

"So, I ask the Prime Minister again, did the Foreign Secretary raise this specific case when he visited China, yes or no?"

Mr Sunak stopped short of explicitly saying whether Foreign Secretary James Cleverly raised the specific case of a parliamentary researcher alleged to have spied for Beijing.

He said: "I refer (Sir Keir) to my previous answer where I said very clearly that the Foreign Secretary raised these issues with the Chinese foreign minister who he met, as did I when I had my meeting with premier Li (Qiang) over the weekend."

On China, he said the Government has the "most robust policy that has existed every in our country's foreign policy", saying it is to protect the country and align the approach with close allies, and to engage "where it makes sense" and to raise "our very significant concerns" - an approach he said was welcomed by allies.

Mr Starmer then branded the Prime Minister "inaction man" over his record in Government, telling the Commons: "Probation, prison, schools, China, yet again inaction man fails to heed the warning and then blames everyone else for the consequences.

"On Sunday, the Home Secretary celebrated her first anniversary in post. That is if you overlook the six days she missed when she was deemed a national security risk.

"In that year, 40,000 people have crossed the Channel on a small boat, and the taxpayer is now spending £6 million a day on hotel bills. He is failing to stop terrorists strolling out of prison, failing to guard Britain against hostile actors, he is completely failing to stop the boats. How can anyone trust him to protect the country?"

Mr Sunak responded by laying out the Government's planned reforms to the Levelling Up Bill, telling MPs: "He talks about trust, he tried in this House to talk the talk on housebuilding, but at the first sign of a cheap political hit, what did he do? He has caved in.

"Rather than make the right long-term decisions for the country he has taken the easy way out. It is typical of the principles-free, conviction-free type of leadership that he offers.
"Flip-flopping from being a builder to a blocker. The British people can't trust a word he says."