The Barry Gardiner debacle proves our urgent need to tackle China

Government accused of being ‘weak’ and ‘naive’ on China by Conservative critics

The government has been accused being “very weak” and “naive” on the potential threat posed by China, ahead of an expected announcement of fresh sanctions against Beijing.

Sir Simon Clarke, a former cabinet minister, hit out at the government this morning, saying that every time there is talk of a “reset” in relations there is then “fresh evidence of malign activity”.

The threat of Chinese state interference in British democracy is due to be raised in the House of Commons this afternoon by the deputy prime minister, Oliver Dowden.

The deputy PM will tell MPs that China was behind cyberattacks on the Electoral Commission as well as against 43 MPs and peers, in a major hack that is reported to have begun in August 2021 but was not identified until October 2022.

The hackers are said to have accessed the names and addresses of anyone in Britain who was registered to vote between 2014 and 2022.

In a post on X/Twitter, Sir Simon suggested the UK should not make the “same mistake” with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, as it did with Vladimir Putin.

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

As the deputy prime minister prepares to address parliament later today, former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith has also branded the government as “very weak” on cyber threats from China. 

“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.

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

Lord Cameron, the foreign secretary, is expected to address the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers later today to warn of the threat posed by China.

He has previously been criticised by MPs for what they described as his “soft stance” on Beijing. is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.