Fury at the UK’s ‘feeble’ rebuke to China after Beijing is revealed to have hacked the details of 40 million voters and spied on MPs – with the government’s response compared to ‘taking a wooden spoon to a gunfight’


Rishi Sunak was last night under mounting pressure to finally get tough with China.

The calls came after Britain and the US revealed the scale of Beijing‘s efforts to subvert Western democracy.

In a highly unusual move, London and Washington publicly identified China as the source of a wave of cyber attacks directed both at politicians and institutions.

But China hawks were furious at a muted response that saw Britain sanction just two hackers and a small firm in Wuhan.

An MP targeted by Beijing for criticising China on human rights claimed ministers had ‘turned up to a gunfight with a wooden spoon’.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said the attacks had failed to undermine the democratic system despite Beijing being responsible for hacking the personal data of up to 40million voters in an attack on the Electoral Commission. He said that Britain ‘will not tolerate’ similar activity in the future.

Rishi Sunak was last night under mounting pressure to finally get tough with China

Rishi Sunak was last night under mounting pressure to finally get tough with China

The Chinese ambassador has been summoned for a dressing-down and Whitehall sources said that staff at Chinese firms and organisations across the UK could be forced to register with the security services.

Beijing denied claims it had carried out, supported or encouraged cyber attacks on the UK, describing them as ‘completely fabricated and malicious slanders’.

A Chinese embassy spokesman urged London to ‘stop spreading false information and stop their self-staged, anti-China political farce’.

The US State Department said it was charging seven suspected Chinese hackers with a series of cyber offences. These relate to a 14-year campaign of disruption involving more than 10,000 malicious emails targeting thousands of politicians, journalists, businesses and officials.

The seven were all named as being members of the shadowy APT31 hacking group which the US said is used by China’s ruling communist party to ‘repress critics of the Chinese regime, compromise government institutions and steal trade secrets’. The State Department also said dozens of British parliamentary accounts had been targeted by Beijing.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, one of 43 British MPs and peers targeted by China, last night savaged the UK response, likening it to ‘an elephant giving birth to a mouse’. 

Beijing denied claims it had carried out, supported or encouraged cyber attacks on the UK, describing them as 'completely fabricated and malicious slanders' (Pictured: Chinese President Xi Jinping)

Beijing denied claims it had carried out, supported or encouraged cyber attacks on the UK, describing them as ‘completely fabricated and malicious slanders’ (Pictured: Chinese President Xi Jinping)

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said the attacks had failed to undermine the democratic system despite Beijing being responsible for hacking the personal data of up to 40million voters

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said the attacks had failed to undermine the democratic system despite Beijing being responsible for hacking the personal data of up to 40million voters

He said the attacks should be seen as 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 warned it was time to formally designate China as a ‘threat’ to Britain, rather than its current status as an ‘epoch-defining challenge’.

‘We need to be tough – appeasement never works,’ he told a press conference in Westminster. ‘If you’re tough with people, the lessons you learn from the 1930s appeasement never works. 

‘If you’re strong and you tell them what’s wrong, and you tell them that eventually they will probably back down but if you don’t they just keep taking advantage of you. That’s our biggest problem.’

Former home secretary Suella Braverman said that it was now ‘absolutely clear that China is a hostile threat’.

Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick said: ‘The Government clearly is not holding China to account for their attack on our democracy. 

The US State Department said it was charging seven suspected Chinese hackers with a series of cyber offences

The US State Department said it was charging seven suspected Chinese hackers with a series of cyber offences

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, one of 43 British MPs and peers targeted by China, last night savaged the UK response, likening it to ‘an elephant giving birth to a mouse’

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, one of 43 British MPs and peers targeted by China, last night savaged the UK response, likening it to ‘an elephant giving birth to a mouse’

Former home secretary Suella Braverman said that it was now ‘absolutely clear that China is a hostile threat’

Former home secretary Suella Braverman said that it was now ‘absolutely clear that China is a hostile threat’

‘Taking three years to sanction two individuals and a small company is derisory. This feeble response will only embolden China to continue its aggression towards the UK.’

Stewart McDonald, the SNP’s defence spokesman and one of the MPs sanctioned by China, said: ‘The Deputy Prime Minister has turned up at a gunfight with a wooden spoon.

‘If we do not take more robust action and see a proper sea change in government thinking, rather than this tinkering around the edges, will this not happen more and more and get worse and worse?’ 

Mr Dowden told MPs that Beijing was responsible for hacking the personal data of up to 40million voters in an attack on the Electoral Commission. China was also blamed for using cyber attacks against a string of UK critics of its regime.

Mr Dowden said Britain was stepping up its cyber defences ahead of the next election, when experts fear there will be a surge in attacks by hostile states wanting to interfere with the result.

Whitehall sources said that staff at Chinese firms and organisations across the UK could be forced to register with the security services

Whitehall sources said that staff at Chinese firms and organisations across the UK could be forced to register with the security services

Downing Street insisted the Government had its ‘eyes wide open when it comes to China’.

Zhao Guangzong and Ni Gaobin, along with the Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology Company Limited were those sanctioned.

Foreign Secretary David Cameron described China’s conduct as ‘completely unacceptable’. 

But the peer, who pioneered a ‘golden era’ of closer relations with Beijing a decade ago, was challenged over his own dealings with the country during a meeting with Tory MPs last night. One security source described him as the ‘great panda hugger’.

The Electoral Commission attack was first identified in October 2022 but the hackers had been able to access its systems for more than a year.

The registers held at the time of the cyber attack include the name and address of anyone in the UK who was registered to vote between 2014 and 2022.

The National Cyber Security Centre, part of GCHQ, said it was likely that Chinese state-affiliated hackers stole emails and data from the electoral register.

This was ‘highly likely’ to have been used by Beijing’s agents for large-scale espionage and transnational repression of perceived dissidents and critics based in the UK.



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