Politics

No 10 should follow parliament and ditch TikTok, says Tory MP


Downing Street and senior ministers have been urged to follow parliament in shutting down their TikTok accounts over concerns about the app’s connection with China and rising tensions over Taiwan.

After a successful lobbying campaign by Conservative MPs, the Speakers of the House of Commons and Lords ordered officials to close down the @ukparliament account, saying they had not been consulted about its creation and had been made aware of reasons for concern.

While only one video had been posted on the TikTok account, showing the best way for tourists to take a selfie with Big Ben in London, a group of Tory backbenchers said the account should be taken down “until credible assurances can be given that no data whatsoever can be transferred to China”.

A letter from the former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, the foreign affairs select committee chair, Tom Tugendhat, and the 1922 Committee vice-chair Nus Ghani claimed “data security risks associated with the app are considerable”.

They said TikTok data was “routinely transferred to China” and suggested the company’s executives “may have misled parliament” by giving contrary assurances to MPs at an evidence session last year.

The group, who have all been banned from China and Hong Kong, pointed to TikTok’s ownership by a Chinese company, ByteDance, and warned that under a Chinese security law, the company would be obliged to supply the personal data of users to Beijing.

Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, and Lord McFall, the Lord Speaker, said the account was “an attempt to engage with younger audiences – who are not always active on our existing social media platforms – regarding the work of parliament”.

However, they added: “In light of your feedback and concerns expressed to us, we have decided that the account should be closed with immediate effect.”

Duncan Smith went further, saying Downing Street and senior ministers with TikTok accounts should follow suit.

He said he was “over the moon” at the Speakers’ decision but added that it “should send a strong signal to everybody else that they shouldn’t setting up TikTok accounts because they’re a threat”.

Several MPs use TikTok to engage with younger audiences, including the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries. She has clocked up more than 2.4m views with videos ranging from a rap explaining the online safety bill to clips of the Lionesses’ victory in Euro 2022. Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, and at least three other Conservative MPs and two Labour MPs also have accounts.

The No 10 TikTok, which has nearly 300,000 followers, was set up by Boris Johnson in October last year. In his inaugural video, the prime minister said: “This is intended to be a place where we can put out messages and behind-the-scenes insights into what we’re getting done, so tune in.”

Duncan Smith said the “message from the UK parliament itself is that TikTok is a risk, so MPs should be taking their accounts down”.

He added: “They now need to heed that lesson because for too long we’ve been pretending otherwise.”

Duncan Smith said it was “time for us to recognise the dangers” and that all MP and official government accounts should be scrapped “right away”, rather than waiting until the end of the Tory leadership race.

No 10 did not suggest it would remove the account. A spokesperson said: “While it is important to reach people through a wide range of channels, we would never jeopardise our security and take all our arrangements extremely seriously.”

A government source suggested there were reservations about setting up the No 10 TikTok, but these were to do with the expected pushback from “China hawk” MPs, rather than any concerns about security.

TikTok described the removal of parliament’s account as disappointing. A spokesperson said: “We reiterate the offer to reassure those members of parliament who raised concerns and clarify any inaccuracies about our platform.”

Tensions with China are rising over Taiwan, after a controversial visit by the US House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

After she met pro-democracy advocates and affirmed the US’s commitment to supporting Taiwan, China announced a series of military drills, while Beijing’s ambassador to the UK warned: “Those who play with fire will get burnt.”

Liz Truss, the foreign secretary and frontrunner in the Tory leadership race, accused China of “inflammatory language”.

She said Pelosi’s trip was “perfectly reasonable” and added: “I urge China to de-escalate.”





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