Conservative leadership vote delayed over hacking fears

British spy agency is concerned that a hostile state could alter ballots and change the result

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss are competing in the leadership contest to succeed Boris Johnson as the next British prime minister. Getty Images
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Voting has been delayed in the Conservative leadership contest because of fears that cyber hackers could interfere with the race to be Britain's next prime minister.

Party members were told that their ballots would be arriving late after a last-ditch change in which the option to amend an online vote will be removed.

The delay in voting came after discussions between British security officials and the Conservative Party, which said it had "taken some time to add some additional security to our ballot process, which has delayed us slightly".

The Daily Telegraph reported that spy agency GCHQ had raised fears of cyber hackers changing people's ballots. It was not thought that any specific hackers had been identified, although Russia and Iran have previously been accused of trying to meddle in British politics.

Ballots had been expected to arrive from Monday as the two remaining candidates, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, make their case to roughly 200,000 Conservative members. Postal ballots could now arrive as late as August 11, members were told.

"We have consulted with the NCSC [National Cyber Security Centre] throughout this process and have decided to enhance security around the ballot process," a party spokesman said. "Eligible members will start receiving ballot packs this week."

A spokesman for the NCSC said it had provided advice on security considerations around online voting.

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The two candidates were in Cardiff on Wednesday for their third official hustings event of the campaign.

At an informal appearance in Shropshire, Ms Truss promised to raise defence spending, raise performance in schools, slim down government agencies and “challenge Treasury orthodoxy” with more investment outside big cities.

Mr Sunak pledged to cut taxes, boost growth and help families hit by the cost of living.

A YouGov poll showed Ms Truss moving into a formidable lead of 69 per cent to 31 per cent, although the race is regarded as difficult to predict because there is little data on the Tory membership.

Asked whether she was looking forward to being prime minister, Ms Truss said: “I am not taking anything for granted. There is still a long way to go in this leadership election.”

Everything you need to know about Liz Truss — video

Ms Truss had endured a difficult day on the campaign trail on Tuesday as an outcry from MPs forced her to abandon a planned pay cut for public sector workers less than 24 hours after announcing it.

It came a day after Mr Sunak was himself accused of a an about-turn by announcing plans for an ambitious tax cut after previously warning against what he called “comforting fairy tales”.

Mr Sunak opened up a new front in the policy debate on Wednesday by announcing his plans on counter-terrorism, saying officials should put more focus on suspected Islamist extremists rather than other groups such as the far right.

He said the definition of extremism would be widened to include “vilification of the United Kingdom”, while offering assurance that this would not be equated with opposing government policy.

Former party treasurer Lord Cruddas, a supporter of outgoing leader Boris Johnson, made an optimistic push to use the delay to balloting to keep the incumbent prime minister in office.

In a letter to the party’s board, he said the contest should be paused and members given a vote on whether to accept Mr Johnson’s resignation.

"If the members vote to keep Boris then there is no need for a leadership campaign and no more cyber security threats,” he said.

Everything you need to know about Rishi Sunak — video

Updated: August 03, 2022, 3:11 PM