Voting for new Tory leader and UK prime minister delayed over security fears

The voting process to decide the UK’s next prime minister has been delayed after a branch of Britain’s signals intelligence agency raised concerns over its security.

Under the original plans, all voting ballots were to be sent this week to Conservative party members, with the option to recast their vote for the next Tory leader and successor to outgoing premier Boris Johnson before the deadline of September 2.

But following advice from the National Cyber Security Centre, which forms part of GCHQ, the UK’s signals intelligence body, the Conservative party has warned members that they may not receive their ballots until next week, citing the need to “add some additional security” to the process.

According to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, which first revealed the delay, the decision came after the NCSC voiced fears that nefarious actors could interfere with the process and alter votes. The Telegraph reported that, as part of the updated security arrangements, Tory members would no longer be able to change their vote after it had been submitted.

In correspondence published by the Telegraph, the Conservative party told members: “Your ballot is now on the way — but it will arrive with you a little later than we originally said. Please do not worry. This is because we have taken some time to add some additional security to our ballot process, which has delayed us slightly.”

Former Tory party treasurer Lord Peter Cruddas on Wednesday called for the leadership campaign to be suspended in light of the NCSC’s warning, adding that the Conservatives should “allow . . . members to decide on a simple yes/no ballot to accept the prime minister’s resignation going forward”. 

A Conservative party spokesperson said: “We have consulted with the NCSC throughout this process and have decided to enhance security around the ballot process. Eligible members will start receiving ballot packs this week.”

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak and foreign secretary Liz Truss are expected to take part in hustings in Cardiff later on Wednesday.

Truss, who is widely regarded as the frontrunner, received a boost to her campaign after YouGov polling on Tuesday revealed that 60 per cent of Tory members backed her, compared with just 26 per cent who were supporting Sunak.

The polling came after Truss was forced to backtrack on her pledge to introduce regional public sector pay boards, which she had said would save £8.8bn.

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis defended Truss’s decision.

“You do see during leadership campaigns obviously people putting out ideas — we’ve seen Rishi Sunak’s team have put out eight or nine different things that they’ve changed around,” he told Times Radio on Wednesday.

“The reality of yesterday is what Liz was outlining was part of a package of dealing with Whitehall waste. We all want to see that dealt with, it’s part of a programme of work actually to get the civil service . . . back down to levels where we’re using taxpayers’ money efficiently and effectively.”

However, former cabinet minister David Davis, who is backing Sunak, argued that the Truss campaign “didn’t think through” the policy.

“They started by accusing journalists of misrepresenting it and the journalists then quite properly read back their press statement — it was very, very obvious,” he told Sky News. “And now they are accusing us of misrepresenting it.”

The National Cyber Security Centre said: “Defending UK democratic and electoral processes is a priority for the NCSC and we work closely with all parliamentary political parties, local authorities and MPs to provide cyber security guidance and support.

“As you would expect from the UK’s national cyber security authority we provided advice to the Conservative party on security considerations for online leadership voting.”

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