Advertisement

China cyberattack: MPs underwhelmed by sanctions as Britain accuses Beijing of ‘malicious’ hacking campaign

China cyberattack: MPs underwhelmed by sanctions as Britain accuses Beijing of ‘malicious’ hacking campaign

Chinese state-affiliated hackers were responsible for two “malicious cyber campaigns” targeting the Electoral Commission and MPs, the deputy prime minister said.

Oliver Dowden told the House of Commons two individuals and a company linked to the Chinese state had been sanctioned over attacks on the Electoral Commission between 2021 and 2022.

The same company also carried out “reconnaissance” activity against UK parliamentary accounts in a separate campaign in 2021, Mr Dowden said.

It comes as Sir Iain Duncan Smith slammed the sanctions as underwhelming when compared with China’s alleged transgression of international law including slave labour and genocide.

He was one of several MPs, including Labour’s Dame Angela Eagle and Kevan Jones, as well as Conservative MP Tim Loughton, who were unimpressed by the government’s response to Chinese state-affiliated cyberattacks.

Mr Dowden said a number of the UK’s allies, including the United States, will be issuing similar statements to “expose this activity and to hold China to account for the ongoing patterns of hostile activity targeting our collective democracies”.

A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in London said: “The so-called cyber attacks by China against the UK are completely fabricated and malicious slanders.”

Key Points

  • UK announces sanctions on Chinese state-affiliated company

  • Govt has been ‘very weak’ on China threat - IDS

  • China accused of cyber attacks on UK

  • Sunak: China is an ‘epoch-defining challenge'

  • Electoral Commission, MPs and peers targeted

Live blog paused

19:20 , Alexander Butler

The Independent’s live politics blog has been paused.

Labour: David Cameron must brief Keir Starmer on China threat

17:30 , Archie Mitchell

Labour has called for the foreign secretary to brief Sir Keir Starmer on the threat posed by China.

National campaign coordinator Pat McFadden said that given “the importance of national and democratic security” to all MPs, it is important Lord Cameron’s briefing is not limited to the 1922 committee of backbench Conservatives.

Lord Cameron is due this evening to address the committee in parliament behind closed doors.

Labour has called for the foreign secretary to brief Sir Keir Starmer on the threat posed by China (Getty Images)
Labour has called for the foreign secretary to brief Sir Keir Starmer on the threat posed by China (Getty Images)

Watch: China-affiliated hackers sanctioned after attacks on UK democracy, Dowden confirms

17:15 , Alexander Butler

Sir Iain Duncan Smith: Dowden statement is like ‘elephant giving birth to a mouse’

17:00 , Alexander Butler

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said Oliver Dowden’s statement was like “an elephant giving birth to a mouse”.

Sir Iain contrasted the government’s two sanctions with what China has done in the last three years, including the Chinese “trashing the Sino-British agreement” and “committing murder and slave labour and genocide in Xinjiang”.

He was one of several MPs, including Labour’s Dame Angela Eagle and Kevan Jones, as well as Conservative MP Tim Loughton, who were underwhelmed by the government’s response to Chinese state-affiliated cyberattacks.

Mr Jones, who sits on parliament’s defence committee, said: “Is that it?”

Sir Iain said the government’s sanctions were underwhelming compared to China’s international transgressions (AP)
Sir Iain said the government’s sanctions were underwhelming compared to China’s international transgressions (AP)

Pat McFadden: Was David Cameron’s role in a Chinese investment fund engineered by the state?

16:43 , Alexander Butler

Pat McFadden has asked whether it is possible David Cameron’s role as vice president of a £1bn China-UK investment fund was engineered in part by the Chinese state, quoting a report by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).

And the Labour frontbencher asked what the government has done to investigate the allegation from the ISC. “How can ministers ensure that those leaving politics are not targeted in the way that the committee discussed?” he asked.

Deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden said all appointments to government jobs are subject “to the usual propriety and ethics processes”.

Pat McFadden questioned if the Chinese state was involved in Cameron’s role as vice president of a China-UK investment fund
Pat McFadden questioned if the Chinese state was involved in Cameron’s role as vice president of a China-UK investment fund

UK announces sanctions on Chinese state-affiliated company

16:40 , Alexander Butler

The UK has announced sanctions on a Chinese state-affiliated company accused of hacking the Electoral Commission and British parliamentary accounts over two years.

Oliver Dowden told the House of Commons two individuals and a company linked to the Chinese state had been sanctioned over attacks on the Electoral Commission between 2021 and 2022.

The same company also carried out “reconnaissance” activity against UK parliamentary accounts in a separate campaign in 2021, Mr Dowden said.

Dowden: We will sanction anyone who attempts to threaten our democratic institutions

16:02 , Matt Mathers

Dowden says the government has made today’s statement to warn of the breadth of the threat posed by China.

He warns that the UK will sanction any actors who attempt to “threaten our democratic institutions”.

Earlier, he confirmed that the cyberattack on the Electoral Commission, part of a “clear and persistent” pattern of behaviour, did not affect the security of UK elections.

ICYMI: UK’s nuclear industry to get £200m boost amid defence concerns, Rishi Sunak announces

16:00 , Matt Mathers

Rishi Sunak will declare a “critical national endeavour” as he unveils a £200m package of investment aimed at securing the future of the UK’s nuclear industry and boosting jobs.

The prime minister will introduce a new fund backed by £20m a year in public money for the next decade to support growth in Barrow-in-Furness, the Cumbrian town that is home to Britain’s Astute class submarines and forthcoming Dreadnought programme.

Full report:

UK nuclear industry to get £200m boost amid defence concerns, Sunak announces

Dowden: US and other partners to call out China

15:51 , Matt Mathers

The United States and other allies of the UK will later today issue their own statements calling out cyberattacks by China, Dowden says.

They are doing so to “hold China to account” for its ongoing “hostile activity” targeting “our collective democracies”, he adds.

Dowden says the government wants to be as “open as possible” with the Commons and the public about the threat the UK faces from hostile states.

He says part of the UK’s defence is “calling out this behaviour”.

Dowden: I can confirm China was responsible for cyberattacks

15:46 , Matt Mathers

Oliver Dowden has confirmed individuals linked to China are responsible for cyberattacks on the Electoral Commission and parliamentarians.

“I can confirm today that Chinese-state affiliated actors were responsible for two malicious cyber campaigns targeting both our democratic institutions and parliamentarians,” he says.

He adds that “these actions demonstrate a clear and persistent pattern of behaviour that signals hostile intent from China”.

Deputy PM gives statement to Commons on China cyberattacks

15:42 , Matt Mathers

Oliver Dowden, the deputy prime minister, is now giving a statement to MPs on cyberattacks by China.

He says he wants to reassure the house that the government is taking action to protect the UK from attacks by hostile states and individuals linked to them - particularly in an election year.

Deputy PM says those actors will be held “to account” and adds that that MPs on both sides of the Commons recognise the “seriousness” of the threat.

ICYMI: Jeremy Hunt doubles down on £100,000 salaries: ‘It doesn’t go as far as you might think’

15:40 , Matt Mathers

The chancellor of the exchequer has stood by his comments that £100,000 is “not a huge salary” in his constituency, explaining that it “doesn’t go as far as you might think”.

Jeremy Hunt came under fire after posting on social media earlier this week that he wanted to “sort out” government childcare eligibility for a parent who earns over £100,000.

Full report:

Hunt doubles down on £100,000 salaries: ‘It doesn’t go as far as you might think’

Number of Britons without savings jumps by more than one million in a year

15:10 , Matt Mathers

The number of Britons without financial savings has jumped by more than one million in the past year, with the financial security of working families plunged into chaos, according to a new analysis of poverty figures.

Around 7.9 million people had no savings in the bank account in the year 2022/23 – up from 6.8 million a year earlier. More than 21 million – almost one third of Brits – have less than £1,500 in reserve.

Full report:

Number of Britons without savings jumps by more than one million in a year

Watch: Grant Shapps and Oliver Dowden address alleged China cybersecurity threat

14:50 , Matt Mathers

Watch live: Grant Shapps and Oliver Dowden address alleged China cybersecurity threat

Half of 2019 Tory voters won’t back party in next election - poll

14:35 , Matt Mathers

More than half of 2019 Conservative voters won’t back the party again at the next general election, according to a poll.

The Helm/Detapoll Monitor survey found 49 per cent of the cohort plan to stick with the party at the next national vote, which must take place by January 2025.

It is a 5 per cent drop since the Budget and the lowest level of support ever recorded by the firm.

No 10: UK worked ‘closely’ with allies to identify Electoral Commission attack

14:20 , Matt Mathers

The UK has worked “closely” with its allies to identify the state behind a 2021 cyber attack on the Electoral Commission, Downing Street has said.

Asked about the length of time between the attack, which came to light in 2022, and the announcement expected later today, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “The investigation) was obviously complex and sensitive and we have been working closely with international partners over a period of time to identify those responsible and hold them to account.”

IDS: China must be classified as a ‘threat’ not ‘challenge’

14:10 , Matt Mathers

Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith urged the government to take tougher action against China.

He said: “We must now enter a new era of relations with China, dealing with the contemporary Chinese Communist Party as it really is, not as we would wish it to be.

“Today’s announcement should mark a watershed moment where the UK takes a stand for values of human rights and the international rules-based system on which we all depend.”

He called for China to be labelled as a “threat” by the government, rather than an “epoch-defining systemic challenge”.

China should also be in the “enhanced” tier under the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme, sanctions should be imposed on those responsible for human rights abuses in China, and support should be given to MPs and others targeted by Beijing in the UK, Sir Iain added.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith: We won’t be bullied into silence by Beijing

14:01 , Matt Mathers

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a prominent critic of the Chinese government, said MPs would not be “bullied into silence by Beijing”.

He told a press conference in Westminster: “We have been subjected to harassment, impersonation and attempted hacking from China for some time.”

While that was “extremely unwelcome”, Sir Iain said “our discomfort pales in comparison to Chinese dissidents who risk their lives to oppose the Chinese Communist Party”.

UK’s eyes ‘wide open’ to China threat - No 10

13:41 , Matt Mathers

The UK has its “eyes wide open when it comes to China”, Downing Street has said as the government is expected to blame Beijing for cyber attacks on the Electoral Commission and parliamentarians.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We have our eyes wide open when it comes to China.

“The Integrated Review Refresh set out that the UK regards China under the Chinese Communist Party as an epoch-defining challenge and as the biggest state-based threat to our economic security.”

He added: “In relation to specific examples, we’ve used our new national security investment powers to block investment from China into sensitive technology sectors like semiconductors.

“Our National Security Act and others means we can take any steps that we need to, for example removing Huawei from our telecoms network.”

Foreign affairs committee MP says UK/China relationship is ‘still too one-sided’

13:30 , Matt Mathers

Conservative MP Bob Seely has criticised the government’s policy on China and called for a "more robust and consistent" approach, Zoe Grunewald reports.

Posting on social media site X, Mr Seely said the Electoral Commission hack is "more evidence today, on top of all the wealth of evidence, that we need a robust and consistent approach to China".

He added: "China’s community leaders seek to dominate the West, not live on harmony with it.  They make no secret of it. Freedom anywhere is a threat to dictators everywhere.

"We need to engage with #China, but let’s do so whilst doing more to protect our interests. The relationship is still too one-sided."

ICYMI: Labour and Conservatives both refuse to commit to compensating Waspi women

13:20 , Matt Mathers

Neither the Conservatives nor Labour would commit to compensating Waspi women on Sunday morning – despite the publication of a damning report that called on the government to pay billions to those who were not told about the state pension rise.

Both the chancellorJeremy Hunt and the Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds declined to say if they would compensate those who were found by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) to have lost out financially after the Department for Work and Pensions failed to adequately communicate changes to the state pension age.

Full report:

Labour and Conservatives both refuse to commit to compensating Waspi women

ICYMI: Kate Middleton conspiracy theories ‘fuelled by China, Russia and Iran’ after cancer diagnosis

13:00 , Matt Mathers

The government is reportedly concerned that Britain’s adversaries are deliberately fuelling disinformation about the Princess of Wales to “destabilise the nation”.

Kate’s absence from the public eye following planned surgery in January became a source of online rumours, speculation and conspiracy theories until the princess revealed she had been diagnosed with cancer in a personal and moving video message.

Full report:

Kate Middleton conspiracy theories ‘being fuelled by China, Russia and Iran’

Senior Tory MP: ‘We cannot be naive on China’

12:40 , Matt Mathers

Senior Conservative MP Henry Smith, a member of the Inter Parliamentary Alliance on China (Ipac), told The Independent the government should not be “naive” and should recognise China is a “threat”, Archie Mitchell reports.

Responding to the news of China’s hacks targeting British MPs and the electoral system, he said it was “no surprise, sadly”.

Mr Smith added: “I think we need to get a lot more serious when it comes to China. We have this dichotomy of them being a huge part of global markets, and they can’t be ignored, but at the same time, the way they don’t play by the international rules based system is something we need to get real about and take defensive measures against quite frankly.

“Whether it’s hacking MPs in the UK, whether it’s abusing the Uyghurs or democracy campaigners in Hong Kong, or threatening Taiwan, we need a much more robust response.”

Mr Smith said: “Clearly they are a threat by their actions, what more do they need to be doing before people acknowledge that?

“Now, it’s difficult because  they’re a key part of the global economy, but I take the view of Anthony Blinken and the US administration on that, of not being naive in terms of our relationship with China, both in terms of being a trading partner but also the threat that they pose to the international world order and democratic values.”

ICYMI: China accused of ‘malign’ cyberattack on Electoral Commission ‘after hacking data of 40million voters’ - in full

12:21 , Matt Mathers

China has been accused of a “malign” cyberattack on Britain after it allegedly accessed millions of voters’ personal details during a hack on the election watchdog.

The UK is poised to sanction those believed to be involved in Chinese state-backed interference, after deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden sets out details about the alleged incident later on Monday.

Full report:

China accused of ‘malign’ cyberattack on UK’s election watchdog

Cameron under fire for addressing 1922 Committee and not Commons on China

11:59 , Matt Mathers

The Liberal Democrats have called for David Cameron to address the House of Commons, not just the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs, Archie Mitchell reports.

The party said it is “outrageous” that amid serious national security threats the foreign secretary is addressing Tory MPs exclusively, not the whole house.

Foreign affairs spokesman Layla Moran said: “When we’re facing such serious national security threats, it is outrageous that only Conservative backbenchers will hear from the Foreign Secretary and have the chance to question him, not all MPs.

“For over half a year, MPs have been calling for David Cameron to answer questions in the House of Commons. With serious concerns about the threat to our democracy from the Chinese Government, the Foreign Secretary must make that happen as a matter of urgency.”

Lord Cameron will address the influential committee of Conservative MPs at a private meeting this evening.

Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron during Question to the Foreign Secretary in the House of Lords, London (House of Lords/UK Parliament/PA) (PA Wire)
Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron during Question to the Foreign Secretary in the House of Lords, London (House of Lords/UK Parliament/PA) (PA Wire)

Sunak: China presents ‘epoch-defining challenge'

11:40 , Matt Mathers

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has said China presented an “epoch-defining challenge”.

Speaking at an engineering firm in Barrow, he echoed the language used in the government’s foreign policy review, saying: “We’ve been very clear that the situation now is that China is behaving in an increasingly assertive way abroad, authoritarian at home and it represents an epoch-defining challenge, and also the greatest state-based threat to our economic security.

“So, it’s right that we take measures to protect ourselves, which is what we are doing.”

He would not be drawn on the hacking announcement due to be made by Oliver Dowden, but said: “When it comes to cyber, we have the National Cyber Security Centre, which is world leading.

“Indeed, when I’m out and about across the world, other leaders want to learn and talk to us because they believe that our capabilities in this country are very strong.”

 (Danny Lawson/PA Wire)
(Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

Government needs to end ‘naivety on China’ - MP

11:18 , Matt Mathers

Former government minister Sir Simon Clarke called for the government to “end its naivety on China”, Zoe Grunewald reports.

Sir Simon Clarke has criticised the government for it’s "naivety" toward China and has compared the Chinese president to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Posting on social media site, X, Sir Simon said: “We have to end our naivety on China. Every time we talk about a reset, there is fresh evidence of malign activity. Hong Kong. The Uighurs. Taiwan. Attacking our democracy"

He added: "If we blame ourselves for not seeing Putin’s true nature, why make the same mistake with Xi?”

Tory voters would prefer defence budget boost over tax cut

11:05 , Matt Mathers

A poll has found that a majority of Conservative voters would prefer an increase in defence spending to tax cuts.

The Savanta survey for The Daily Telegraph found 59 per cent of people who backed the Tories in 2019 backed boosting the defence budget.

“The prime minister is betting his and his party’s political future on an improving economy that will allow him to dole out tax cuts to a grateful public,” Chris Hopkins, Savanta’s political research director, said.

“But our latest research suggests this might be misguided, with nearly two thirds of Conservative voters wanting him to increase defence spending, even if it means he can’t cut taxes.”

UK’s nuclear industry to get £200m boost amid defence concerns, Rishi Sunak announces

10:52 , Matt Mathers

Rishi Sunak will declare a “critical national endeavour” as he unveils a £200m package of investment aimed at securing the future of the UK’s nuclear industry and boosting jobs.

The prime minister will introduce a new fund backed by £20m a year in public money for the next decade to support growth in Barrow-in-Furness, the Cumbrian town that is home to Britain’s Astute class submarines and forthcoming Dreadnought programme.

Full report:

UK nuclear industry to get £200m boost amid defence concerns, Sunak announces

Government has been ‘very weak’ on China - IDS

10:34 , Matt Mathers

The government has been “very weak” on cyber threats from China, former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith has said.

“The US has sanctioned around 12 officials in Xinjiang and 42 officials in Hong Kong — all very senior people in the Chinese regime.” he told the Financial Times.

“The UK has only sanctioned three people in Xinjiang and none in Hong Kong — and we used to run the place. It beggars belief,” he added.

In July last year, Sir Iain told The Independent the government needed to take a “closer look” at who owned companies in China with links to the UK as he criticised the merger between Vodafone and Three.

“The government still doesn’t seem to understand that Chinese companies can be mandated to hand over their data to Beijing at the drop of a hat,” he said.

“We should be really worried about that. I also think we need to be taking a closer look at who owns these companies, the links between them and the Chinese government and the origins of the money flowing through them.”

Read more on that story here:

Former Tory leader warns Vodafone and Three merger poses ‘dangerous’ security risk

Chinese firm EVE on brink of investing billions in UK’s largest gigafactory

10:14 , Matt Mathers

Chinese electric vehicle battery maker EVE Energy is reportedly on the verge of investing billions of pounds to build the UK’s largest gigafactory.

EVE, the world’s largest maker of Tesla-like car batteries and supplies BMW, is understood to be in advanced negotiations to construct a 60 gigawatt-hour factory near Coventry, The Sunday Times reported.

Sources close to the negotiations told the paper the firm will initially commit to investing at least £1.2 billion into a 20GWh gigafactory.

Kate Middleton conspiracy theories ‘fuelled by China, Russia and Iran’ after cancer diagnosis

10:05 , Matt Mathers

The government is reportedly concerned that Britain’s adversaries are deliberately fuelling disinformation about the Princess of Wales to “destabilise the nation”.

Kate’s absence from the public eye following planned surgery in January became a source of online rumours, speculation and conspiracy theories until the princess revealed she had been diagnosed with cancer in a personal and moving video message.

Full report:

Kate Middleton conspiracy theories ‘being fuelled by China, Russia and Iran’

What time is deputy PM’s statement to the Commons?

09:55 , Matt Mathers

Oliver Dowden is scheduled to give an update to the Commons this afternoon on the alleged China cyberattacks.

He is expected to give his statement at 3.30pm - potentially a bit later if any urgent questions are granted by the speaker.

Lord David Cameron, the foreign secretary, is expected to address the 1922 Committee at around 5pm.

David Cameron (PA Wire)
David Cameron (PA Wire)

Labour front bencher calls for new strategy to tackle threats from foreign states

09:43 , Matt Mathers

The shadow secretary of Wales has called for a new strategy for tackling threats from foreign states.

Jo Stevens called for closer working between the Home Office and Foreign Office to “protect our electoral freedoms”.

“We need a new strategy, which we have long been calling for, to tackle state threats with closer working between the Home Office and the Foreign Office to coordinate the UK’s strategic response to this growing threat both to domestic security and our electoral freedoms,” she told Sky News.

UK Parliament of Jo Stevens who is the Labour MP for Cardiff Central and shadow Welsh secretary (PA Media)
UK Parliament of Jo Stevens who is the Labour MP for Cardiff Central and shadow Welsh secretary (PA Media)

China investment will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis - minister

09:34 , Matt Mathers

The government will review Chinese-state investment in the UK on a “case-by-case basis”, a government minister has said.

Andrew Bowie, the nuclear minister, said the government had to take a “grown-up” and “pragmatic” relationship with Beijing.

“We have to have a grown-up, pragmatic relationship with China,” he told LBC.

“And that means looking at each of these investments in the round, on a case-by-case basis, ensuring that our security and our individual liberties and freedoms are not undermined by any of the investments that are under way.”

UK will ‘stop at nothing’ to counter cyber threat

09:29 , Matt Mathers

The UK will “stop at nothing” to protect against cyber attacks, a government minister said, as China was set to be accused of targeting the elections watchdog.

Nuclear minister Andrew Bowie said he could not comment on the speculation about China but told LBC Radio: “The fact is that this government has invested a lot of time, money and effort in ensuring that our cyber security capabilities are at the place they need to be, we’ve increased the powers of our intelligence and security community to be able to deal with these threats.

“And we will stop at nothing to ensure that the British people, our democracy, our freedom of speech and our way of life is defended.”

China hawks to be briefed by parliament’s director of security

09:24 , Matt Mathers

A small group of politicians who are hawkish on China are said to have been called to a briefing by parliament’s director of security, Alison Giles, in relation alleged cyberattacks by individuals linked to Beijing.

They include former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former minister Tim Loughton, crossbench peer Lord Alton and SNP MP Stewart McDonald, The Sunday Times reported.

The four are members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China pressure group, which focuses on issues involving the increasingly assertive Asian power.

Some of those affected are understood to be preparing to jointly address the matter publicly on Monday.

A government spokeswoman refused to comment on Sunday.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith is one of parliament’s most vocal critics of China (PA Archive)
Sir Iain Duncan Smith is one of parliament’s most vocal critics of China (PA Archive)

In full: China accused of ‘malign’ cyberattack on Electoral Commission ‘after hacking data of 40million voters’

09:16 , Matt Mathers

China has been accused of a “malign” cyberattack on Britain after it allegedly accessed millions of voters’ personal details during a hack on the election watchdog.

The UK is poised to sanction those believed to be involved in Chinese state-backed interference, after deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden sets out details about the alleged incident later on Monday.

Full report:

China accused of ‘malign’ cyberattack on UK’s election watchdog

09:15 , Matt Mathers

Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live politics coverage.

China has been accused of carrying out “malign” cyberattacks on the UK, with Oliver Dowden, the deputy prime minister, set to update MPs in the Commons later about the threat posed by Beijing.

We’ll have updates on this story and others from Westminster and elsewhere throughout the day.

Stay tuned for all the latest news.