A senior Conservative MP has claimed that parliament’s email system is less secure than Google’s Gmail as he warned China was attacking the UK’s democracy.
Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat said parliament and the UK government needed to do more to defend democracy and freedom of speech.
Tugendhat, who was targeted with sanctions by Beijing in retaliation for British measures imposed over human rights abuses in Xinjiang province, claimed to have been the victim of Chinese “psyops” – psychological operations – including spoof emails to fellow MPs.
Tugendhat said: “I was told by friends at GCHQ – not formally, I admit – that I was better off sticking to Gmail rather than using the parliamentary system because it was more secure.
“Frankly, that tells you the level of security and the priority we are giving to democracy in the United Kingdom.”
An urgent question has been granted in the Commons on Tuesday after Beijing imposed sanctions against nine British critics – including five MPs and two peers – banning them from entering China and Hong Kong.
Tugendhat said: “The sanctions that the UK government has applied on China are being applied for violations of human rights – actions, in other words. Actually brutalising people, actually murdering people, actually doing physical harm to people.
“The sanctions China has applied are for speaking. They are for calling out the violation of Chinese citizens, or the brutality towards the Chinese Uighur population.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today, Tugendhat said: “What the British government and parliament has to respond to is defending freedom of speech in the UK.
“Now last week, emails were sent round claiming to be from me, claiming that I had resigned from the Foreign Affairs Committee, which of course I haven’t, and many other cyber attacks have been perpetrated either on me or on others – attacks of impersonation, attacks on certain accounts and various other things.”
Tugendhat also suggested Iran was involved in similar actions.
“It has been happening for about two or three years – in fact, it is not just China that has done it.
“Iran is one country I know of that has done it and there are likely to be two others that I won’t name because I can’t be certain.”
When the email was sent to members of the Foreign Affairs Committee announcing his “resignation” on April 9, Tugendhat said: “This is what China’s psyops looks like.”