Dowden guarantees UK elections will be safe from Chinese cyber attacks

Oliver Dowden said he could guarantee the elections this year would be safe from Chinese cyber attacks and insisted UK national security would not be put at risk by Chinese-made smart vehicles.

The Deputy Prime Minister said the local elections in May and the general election later in 2024 “will be safe and secure”, after earlier formally blaming Beijing for an attack on the Electoral Commission which exposed the personal data of 40 million voters.

In a statement to the House of Commons, he announced sanctions on two people and an entity associated with Chinese state-linked hacking group APT31.

Speaking to the PA news agency later on Monday, he expressed confidence the electoral process would be safe from Chinese espionage.

Mr Dowden said: “Yes, I can guarantee that our electoral processes will be safe and secure.

“That is not to say there isn’t an increasingly hostile landscape against which all elections around the world are being conducted.”

He added that “it’s precisely because we’re in this year of elections when we face this heightened risk from malign actors” such as China, acting in co-operation with states including Russia, Iran and North Korea, that it is important that “nations that believe in democracy, openness, the rule of law stand together”.

Pressed on why the action was only being taken now, when the Electoral Commission attack was identified in October 2022, the Deputy Prime Minister said it was important to have “a robust evidence base” and a “united and concerted front” with the United States.

The UK’s increased pressure on China came amid similar action from the US, which indicted several Chinese individuals accused of malicious cyber operations on Monday.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden telling the Commons Beijing was to blame for a cyberattack on the Electoral Commission (UK Parliament/Andy Bailey/PA)

US President Joe Biden, citing possible national security risks, recently announced an investigation into Chinese-made smart cars that can gather sensitive information about Americans driving them.

Mr Dowden, asked whether the UK has similar concerns, insisted the Government would ensure Chinese connected vehicles were secure.

“We’ll make sure that we protect the security of our transport infrastructure,” he said.

“And of course, any new technology requires approval from safety authorities.

“And I know that the Secretary of State for Transport will ensure that any new technology that’s deployed on our roads is protected and secure.”

The minister also said the UK kept all decisions on Chinese nuclear investment “under review”, amid fresh concerns about Bradwell B, the proposed nuclear power station at Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex, put forward by China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN).

Mr Dowden said: “Of course we keep all these decisions under review.

“But I believe that we’ve reached a sensible place in relation to this and working across Government and with our intelligence community, we’ll make sure that any nuclear investments are safe and secure.”