May 16, 2023 - 5:10pm

China’s ascendancy in the last half-century, as well as its alleged cover-up of the origins of Covid-19, has been aided by “useful idiots” in Britain and Western Europe, former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove claimed today. Speaking at the National Conservatism conference in central London, Dearlove said that “eminent members of our own elite are doing the work of our enemies for them,” and gave as examples “advocating for Huawei” and “refusing to publish serious scientific study that questions the Chinese narrative on the origins of SARS-CoV-2”. 

Dearlove has previously spoken out about the possibility of the Covid-19 pandemic having a man-made cause, arguing as early as June 2020 that the coronavirus began life “as an accident” in a Chinese lab. A year later, he stated that CCP officials would have destroyed any evidence of a leak, making the theory more difficult to prove. 

During his speech in Westminster this afternoon, Dearlove argued that the UK Government has “allowed its guard to drop in the expectation that […] China could, and would, change [their foreign policy]”. The former spy chief, who headed the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) at the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was accused of providing then-prime minister Tony Blair with unconfirmed information about weapons of mass destruction, dedicated much of his speech to the threat posed to the West by both China and Russia. The retired intelligence officer referred to the countries as “two autocratic polities still focused on the eventual destruction of our value system”.

The ex-MI6 boss, who in May 2021 told LBC that it was “far more likely” that the Covid-19 virus escaped from a lab, rather than being started by an animal in a wet market, was at first widely criticised for his claims. In the last two years, however, a number of institutions have rowed back on their prior position and given credence to the lab leak theory, such as the US energy department and liberal media outlets like the New York Times.

Talking about the country’s influence on British policy and public life, Dearlove highlighted “the penetration of our universities and our scientific establishment by China has been especially worrying”, a process enabled by “useful idiots who have fuelled active measures for our adversaries”. 

Drawing on his experience in the SIS, which he joined in 1966, Dearlove said that “it never occurred to me that I was not on the side of the angels”, and that “we did not entertain any doubt about being on the right side of the Cold War.” Then, there was, he claimed, “a fundamental moral difference between the values we espoused and the totalitarian nature of Soviet Russia and Maoist China.”

“The lesson,” Dearlove told the audience, “is that the Chinese have not and do not give up.” Meanwhile, the UK has “become laissez-faire about the China threat and even, in some instances, complicit in allowing China to gain ground at our expense.”

Though China has become “more assertive and more aggressive” in its foreign policy, Dearlove said, we should also be concerned about its proponents in the West. For him, the lab leak theory and its suppression was an important, but not the only, example of the anglophone political and media establishment closing ranks, and in doing so protecting the interests of Beijing.

is UnHerd’s Assistant Editor, Newsroom.