Tory minister faces backlash over 'little man in China' joke

Watch: Tory minister Mark Spencer says "little man in China" could be listening in on conversations with his wife

A Tory minister has been accused of showing "ignorance on many levels" after joking that "some little man in China" is listening in on his phonecalls with his wife.

Mark Spencer made the remark when asked on Sky News about reports of former PM Liz Truss' phone being hacked by Russian spies when she was foreign secretary.

Sensitive messages with foreign officials including information on the war in Ukraine were leaked in the supposed cyberattack, along with conversations with former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng.

When asked about the incident on Monday morning, Spencer told Sky News: “The former prime minister clearly was hacked.

"So, that is the first thing you do, say ‘oh my goodness, I’ve been hacked, help’, and the security services will help you with that challenge.

“Now, of course, you don’t always know, which is why you’ve got to be super careful.”

Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food, Mark Spencer, arrives for the Conservative Party annual conference at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham. Picture date: Monday October 3, 2022. (Photo by Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images)
Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food, Mark Spencer, is already at the centre of an unresolved Islamophobia probe. (Getty)

When asked about concerns Truss had been speaking on a personal phone at the time of the breach, the environment minister said: “We all talk on personal phones, don’t we, you know?

"I ring my wife, maybe there’s some little man in China listening to the conversations between me and my wife.

“But, you know, you’ve just got to be careful about what information you use on which phone and you get a lot of help and support from the security services on that.”

It wasn't long before Spencer started receiving backlash, with Labour MP Chris Bryant tweeting: “'Little man'? Honestly?"

Labour's Sarah Owen, Britain's first female MP of Chinese and South East Asian descent, said Spencer had "once again" shown his ignorance "on many levels".

Lashing out at the minister on Twitter, she referred to a still outstanding probe over alleged Islamophobic comments by Spencer.

Nusrat Ghani claims that when she was fired as transport minister, Spencer, then-chief whip, allegedly said “Muslimness was raised as an issue” and that her “Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable”.

In January, Spencer admitted being the minister she was speaking about, but said her claims were "completely fasle" and "defamatory".

The government is now facing demands for a probe over claims of "ill discipline" and not taking national security "seriously enough" following claims of Truss' phone being hacked.

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According to the Mail On Sunday, the breach was discovered while Truss was running for the Tory leadership this summer and was "suppressed" by then-prime minister Boris Johnson and cabinet secretary Simon Case.

Levelling-up secretary Michael Gove said the government had "very robust protocols" in place when it comes to securing phones.

But on Sunday former British joint intelligence committee chairman Pauline Neville-Jones said she was "not at all tolerant of the notion that it's OK for ministers to use private mobile phones".