18 October 2022

Foreign Agent Registration Scheme to be added to UK National Security Bill

18 October 2022

A new scheme will make clandestine political activity by foreign agents illegal in the UK.

The Foreign Influence Registration Scheme, introduced via an amendment to the National Security Bill, will aim to protect the UK’s institutions from covert efforts by foreign powers to influence them.

It will require individuals to register activity they do in the UK on behalf of a foreign state in a bid to thwart hostile activity, combat spying and protect sensitive research.

Unfortunately, there are people working in secret to undermine the UK’s democracy and cause harm to our citizens

They will have 10 days to register the activity and must declare who directs them, what they have been told to do and when they were told to do it. Failure to register the activity will be a criminal offence, with offenders facing a fine or up to two years in prison.

It will also introduce an enhanced tier of registration, allowing the Home Secretary to single out a foreign power or entity and make it an offence for anyone in the UK to carry out an activity for that entity without being registered. Parliamentary approval will be needed each time the Government seeks to utilise this extra measure.

Failure to comply with the enhanced tier will result in a fine or up to five years in prison.

There will be some exceptions to the scheme, including those who officially work for a foreign power, those with diplomatic immunity, those who provide legal services, employees of British and foreign news publishers and those who are in an arrangement to which the Government or Crown is party.

In a statement, security minister Tom Tugendhat said the scheme embraces “open and transparent engagement with foreign governments”.

“Unfortunately, there are people working in secret to undermine the UK’s democracy and cause harm to our citizens,” he said.

We need new, modern tools and powers to defend ourselves, proportionately but firmly

“For years I have advocated for the establishment of a foreign influence registration scheme to deter foreign powers from pursuing their pernicious aims through the covert use of agents and proxies.

“I am delighted that the scheme we are introducing will help ensure our political affairs are protected, whilst embracing open and transparent engagement with foreign governments and entities which we continue to welcome.”

Ken McCallum, director general of the security service (MI5), said the scheme will make it “harder and riskier” for foreign agents to operate covertly in the UK.

“The UK is in strategic contest with states that seek to undermine our national security, democratic institutions and commercial advantage at an unprecedented scale. We need new, modern tools and powers to defend ourselves, proportionately but firmly,” he said.

“Alongside the other vital measures introduced in the National Security Bill, the new Foreign Influence Registration Scheme will make it harder – and riskier – to operate covertly in the UK at the behest of a foreign power.

“It will also increase openness and transparency around the scale of foreign influence in our political affairs and make it harder for our adversaries to undermine our democracy. The Foreign Influence Registration Scheme is a modern power designed to tackle a modern threat and I welcome its inclusion in the National Security Bill”.

Other additions to the National Security Bill include making it illegal to receive a “material benefit” from a foreign intelligence service, as well as giving authorities increased powers to identify, monitor and investigate the accounts of those suspected of engaging in “foreign power threat activity”.

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