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China linked to UK cyber-attacks on voter data, Dowden to say

March 25, 2024

The attacks on the Electoral Commission took place in August 2021 but were only revealed last year.

Several MPs and peers who have been critical of Beijing are thought to have also been targeted in cyber-attacks.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden will address Parliament on Monday about the threat.

The BBC understands other Western nations will set out similar concerns.

Acknowledging the attacks last August, the Electoral Commission said unspecified "hostile actors" had gained access to copies of the electoral registers and broken into its emails and "control systems", but added that it had neither had any impact on any elections nor anyone's registration status.

It is now thought that Mr Dowden will suggest those behind the attack had links to Beijing, as well as laying out how the UK will respond to what it deems a wider threat.

Publicly identifying the attackers lays the groundwork for potential legal and political actions, such as sanctions or diplomatic protests.

Linking the attackers to China, a fellow member of the UN Security Council, would be an escalation in the diplomatic tension between the two countries.


This marks a major change from just a few years ago, when British leaders aimed to usher in a "Golden Age" with China.

The prime minister then was David Cameron, who is now the foreign secretary after taking a seat in the House of Lords last year.

The Chinese Embassy has been approached for comment by the BBC.

China's 'strategic threat'

The government is keen to stress it has already rejected or wound down Chinese investment in infrastructure in recent years on national security grounds.

Three MPs who are among those thought to have been targeted - former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former minister Tim Loughton and the SNP's Stewart McDonald - will receive a briefing from the head of parliamentary security.

They are members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China which scrutinises, and often criticises, the activities of Beijing.

Mr Loughton told the BBC that "for too long" the government has not taken the "strategic threat" from China seriously.

Speaking on the Westminster Hour on BBC Radio 4: "We need to have a raft of senior Chinese officials seriously sanctioned because of what's been going on with this cyber attack, what's going on in Hong Kong [and] in Xinjiang".

UK government concern over Chinese espionage and parliamentary interference has been rising.

In September 2023, a parliamentary researcher was arrested under the Official Secrets Act accused of spying for China.


And a year before, an unusual parliamentary interference alert was issued regarding the activities of UK-based lawyer Christine Lee.

MI5 alleged she had been carrying out political interference activities including donating funds to support the work of MPs. This was all said to be on behalf of China.

China has consistently denied accusations of espionage and wrong-doing.

Labour's shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens has demanded "a new strategy" to tackle state threats.

She said, Labour is calling for "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".

Energy Minister Andrew Bowie insisted the government had a "pragmatic relationship" with the Beijing government, amid reports that China's EVE Energy is set to invest in a battery plant in the West Midlands.

Speaking on LBC, he said: "We will stop at nothing to ensure that the British people, our democracy, our freedom of speech and our way of life is defended."

The government looks "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," he added.

Source: BBC

Image: BBC