Lee Rowley: Brexit is big. But our politics is bigger – and I say that as a committed Leaver. Here are some ideas to boost it.

Remainers and Brexiteers alike must recognise the politicians are stuck in an ever-decreasing circle of fervour, hyperbole and hysteria.

Lee Rowley is MP for North East Derbyshire, and Co-Chair of FREER.

Brexit, Brexit, Brexit.  Has there ever been a time when one subject so overwhelmed the political debate in our country?  Where one political Death Star loomed over every facet of public policy to the point where, at least for the political class, nothing else appears to matter?

The last few months have felt as though we’ve entered some shadow realm where our relationship with Europe has obliterated UK politics.  Brexit gnaws away at the most reasonable people, engulfs even the most tangential subjects and saps the life out of even the most joyful of conversations – and I say this as a committed Brexiteer.  Even Christmas was not immune.  MPs were told to use the festive period to reconsider the Prime Minister’s deal as if an over-indulgence of mince pies and sherry would result in a sudden epiphany that it was, somehow, acceptable after all.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I have as strong a view on Brexit as the next person (perhaps even more so than many!).  Yet Remainers and Brexiteers alike must recognise the politicians are stuck in an ever-decreasing circle of fervour, hyperbole and hysteria.  And all the while, those outside the bubble tire of the indulgence of the political class.  The people made a decision two and a half years ago.  And they are bored of politicians trying to frustrate it.

The people are completely right – and for two reasons.  First, because we’ve got to honour the referendum result.  Second, and just as importantly, they are right because we’ve got to move on.  As a Party, there is so much that we have to do and, relatively, so little time to do it.  Not just the day-to-day responsibility of government, which needs continuous attention, but also because we’ve also got properly to wrestle with the underlying bigger issues which are going to determine whether we continue in government, whether we have the right answers to future challenges and whether, crucially, we can defeat the resurrected zombie of 1980s socialism.

So as the meaningful vote debate gets underway again, here is an article that doesn’t primarily focus on the EU for a change.  And here are six big issues that need our urgent attention when we, finally, move on from Brexit.

First, we’ve got to accept that there is a massive change coming in the way we live, work and play through technology – and that needs better thought and consideration than we’ve managed to date.  Mark Wallace was absolutely right a few days ago when he talked about the need to embrace technology and the good that it can bring for society.  Yet, more importantly, that change is coming anyway – and it is an abdication of responsibility if we don’t engage properly.  A recent report suggested that in the next 20 years, seven million jobs will be lost – one in every five in the country.  If the UK gets its act together, a similar number (or even more) could be created.  But we need to think it through.  And most people in Westminster still don’t even know what machine learning is.

Second, we’ve got to stop banning things.  As Conservatives, we have a guilty pleasure for paternalism; our inner restraints occasionally loosen as we believe people need to be saved from themselves.  We know we shouldn’t, but we do.  Yet, that isn’t what our mission is about.  Freedom is what sets us apart from the socialism – and that includes the freedom to make mistakes as well as take opportunities.  If, as a party, we really believe in this principle then we have to have the hard conversations with the country about why government can’t do everything, not just bask in a warm glow of where it can.  If we don’t make a clearer case about our belief in people, then we become a pale pastiche of Labour.  And, for those who believe that people over-indulge too much on sugary treats already, why would people choose the Diet Coke version of nannying government when they can have the full fat one from Jeremy Corbyn?

Third, we’ve got to stop the money arms race with Labour on public services.  As a Conservative, I believe in strong public services which help people up, support them when they need and make our country safer and secure.  You need money to do that.  But it isn’t an end in itself.  Spending an arbitrary number on education or increasing the health budget by a similarly arbitrary figure focusing on the wrong thing.  Corbyn is the one fixated on inputs and processes.  We should care only about the transformation money can bring and the outcomes it delivers.  Stop talking in billions.  Start talking about what we want to do and what we want to achieve by when.  How to raise the number of children getting world class education.  How to improve cancer outcomes.  How to connect people in the north by rail.  Focus the debate on outcomes or we will lose.

Fourth, we are going to have to have a proper discussion about what we want government to do in the future.  Demographic change, increasing demand and increasing complexity in health and social care are all going to strain public budgets in the coming decades.  Some assessments suggest the NHS is going to need another £50 billion.  The ONS thinks that there will be another eight million people over 65 in the UK in 50 years’ time.  It’s fantastic news that we are living longer but it also requires us to seriously reform our public services to avoid us becoming a national care home with a country attached to it.  People have a right to expect their government to come up with solutions and to be able to pay for it.  We need a clearer conversation with the public and a strong reforming mission as we renew in Government in the run-up to 2022.

Fifth, we are going to have to work out how we restore democracy.  Quite simply, the way in which we approach decision-making is stuck in the 1990s.  Political manifestoes declare lofty ambitions once every five years and then politicians disappear off to squabble about them.  We are awash in national and local consultations perpetuating a thin veneer of public involvement, followed usually by politicians doing whatever they want anyway.  A hundred years ago, politics was the practice of educated people taking decisions for the uneducated.  Absolutely rightly, no longer.  Today, politics should be a continuous process of discussion, debate and interaction with everyone – where that interaction matters.  And it will need to be a more local conversation than before which, by default, means accepting that services will be delivered differently in different places.  Democracy is fragile.  And we need to renew it.

Finally, we are going to have to learn how to “deliver” in government.  Another little commented national scandal is the continuing inability, across all parties, of government to function.  Carillion showed the limits of poorly structured services – not because private enterprise doesn’t work (far from it) but because it wasn’t set up properly.  Sitting on the Public Accounts Committee every week, I hear horror stories of billions lost through poor Government administration and projects, both public and private.  And the Civil Service leadership glides effortlessly through whatever screw-ups occur, no matter what.  Real reform of government requires proper leadership, a proper understanding of change management and deliverers who are actually held to account.  We aren’t even trying at the moment.

So, yes, Brexit is big.  But other things are bigger.  Taken together, these are the issues which will transcend individual portfolios and departments; the quiet problems which will monster us if we start thinking about them too late.  So, this week, as Brexit again sucks all the oxygen out of the room, remember this: we are essentially fighting over a foreign policy pivot and a future trading relationship.  Vast and existential they certainly are.  Yet at some point the Brexit fog will lift.  And, if we haven’t started to consider the underlying bigger challenges we face, then our party will be caught wanting.  More importantly, our country will be poorer.  And that’s a much bigger problem than whether flights will take off on 30th March (spoiler alert: they will).  Time to broaden our conversation.

German industry seeks to push harder EU line on China

Europe’s industrial heartland signals it wants tougher policies from the next Commission.

German industry today launched a major offensive to ensure the next European Commission will take a harder line on China.

Ahead of this year’s European election, Germany’s most influential industry federation is calling on Brussels to ramp up EU defenses against what it sees as unfair competition from Beijing.

Crucially, its 54-point plan, obtained by POLITICO, seeks a bigger role for the European Commission’s powerful competition unit as the EU tries to combat China’s subsidized exports, industrial overcapacity and corporate buy-outs.

The proposals from the Federation of German Industries (BDI) offer a sign that Berlin and the EU are likely to gravitate toward a tougher position against Beijing after the departure of the more China-friendly U.K. from the 28-member bloc.

“The People’s Republic is establishing its own political, economic and social model,” said BDI President Dieter Kempf. Politicians could no longer afford to “simply ignore the challenges China poses to the EU and Germany,” he added.

A tougher line on China from Germany would align Berlin more closely with Paris.

“A battle of economic models is emerging,” the BDI said in Thursday’s paper.

A tougher line on China from Germany would align Berlin more closely with Paris. It would, however, also revive charges of hypocrisy from countries such as Portugal and Greece, which argue that Germany pushed them to sell off prized assets to the Chinese during the financial crisis. Germany’s critics say Berlin has only recently woken up to the risks posed by strategic Chinese buy-outs in sectors with core know-how such as robotics.

Battle of the systems

The BDI plan represents a major shift in the way German businesses think and talk about China, which American and French officials often criticized as naïve.

For many years, the Chinese economy was seen as largely complementary to Germany’s: China produced cheap consumer goods and components, while Germany produced larger machines and hi-tech products.

China’s President Xi Jinping (R) meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, May 24, 2018 | Jason Lee – Pool photo/Getty Images

When the European solar cell industry was wiped out by subsidized Chinese competitors, the German economy ministry saw it as the price to be paid to maintain good relations with Beijing, which was more than offset by Germany’s sales of luxury cars to the Middle Kingdom.

But as China moves up the value chain, Chinese subsidies pose an increasing threat to the German model. Chinese producers have now entered into direct competition with many traditional German champions.

As one of its lines of defense, the BDI on Thursday came out staunchly in favor of mergers that allow companies to bulk up into European champions. This is a subject of hot debate as Franco-German plans to merge Alstom and Siemens into a rail champion are meeting fierce headwinds over fears the two will form an uncompetitive behemoth in the EU. The Germans argue that EU regulators should take a more global perspective when calculating the effects of merger concentrations, and not just look at the harm to consumers in Europe.

France leads the charge for reciprocity but Britain and Sweden argue such measures would be counter-productive.

To fight Chinese subsidies, the BDI wants hard-hitting options on the table. EU state-aid rules only apply to European companies receiving subsidies, but the BDI wants these extended to cover “subsidies outside the EU.” The bloc should also consider creating a new mechanism for “subsidy control” to assess whether takeovers are financed with subsidies, the BDI argued.

But the group also suggests fighting fire with fire. This could mean taking account of “reciprocity” in tenders for big public procurement contracts like roads and railways. To date, France has led the charge for reciprocity, which means closing EU tenders to bids from companies based in (particularly Asian) countries that restrict European access to tenders on their soil. Free trading countries such as Britain and Sweden have long argued that such measures would be counter-productive and would close European markets to the best-value bids.

Changing the focus on Chinese takeovers

The BDI also called on the EU to change its approach to the Chinese state’s influence in mergers and acquisitions.

The European Commission’s directorate-general for competition has long been under pressure to take a more holistic view of how it values the market power of Chinese enterprises owned or steered by the state. The EU often treats each state-owned company as a separate entity. This limits the perception by regulators that a company could be distorting competition by coordinating with other limbs of the Chinese state. The BDI is calling for updated rules that would allow the Commission to consider those companies as part of a bigger market player: China Inc. This would expand Brussels’ powers to crack down on buy-outs.

European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen said on Wednesday that he was “open … to look at the competition policy due to the changing market.”

Many EU countries have pledged to push for “evolutions of the European rules applicable to competition and state aid.”

In a little-noticed statement just before Christmas, 18 EU countries also called on the next Commission to rethink its industrial policy, specifically calling for changes to competition rules.

France, Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain said they would push for “possible evolutions of the European rules applicable to competition and state aid” particularly to “review the state aid framework to … promote the competitiveness of European industry at international level.”

The countries also called for updating antitrust rules to “better take into account international markets and competition in merger analysis.”

The BDI also stressed the value of so-called matching clauses, which have been overlooked as a potential weapon in EU state-aid policy. These clauses allow EU countries to offer state aid to investors to keep business in Europe, by matching the subsidies the companies are being offered by a rival such as China or Mexico.

German industry says it wants the scope of these matching clauses to be ramped up. The BDI sees such subsidies as an interim measure until the EU works out how to export its anti-subsidy standards internationally.

This article is from POLITICO Pro: POLITICO’s premium policy service. To discover why thousands of professionals rely on Pro every day, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.


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Heathrow airport grounds planes after drone sighting

Hundreds of flights were canceled at London’s Gatwick airport last month.

London Heathrow airport halted departures for a short period Tuesday evening in response to a drone sighting.

The airport said it was working closely with London police “to prevent any threat to operational safety,” and said it had grounded planes as a precautionary measure.

After resuming operations, the airport said it would “continue to monitor” the situation and remained in contact with the police and air traffic control.

Hundreds of flights were canceled at London’s Gatwick airport last month during the busy Christmas period because of drone sightings.

The U.K.’s Department for Transport proposed new legislation Monday to give more authority to police in dealing with rogue drones, and expand the restricted airspace around airports from a 1 kilometer radius to a 5 kilometer radius.

This article has been updated.


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UK MPs to vote on Brexit deal on January 15

Theresa May had delayed the vote on the deal agreed with the EU before Christmas.

LONDON — The House of Commons will vote on the Brexit withdrawal deal next Tuesday, January 15, Prime Minister Theresa May told her Cabinet today.

The debate will be opened again Wednesday by Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and will be closed by May next Tuesday, her spokesman told journalists at a briefing today.

May had delayed the vote on the deal agreed with the EU27 leaders before Christmas to seek further assurances over the Northern Irish backstop, amid opposition from her own MPs.


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In 2019, the ‘techlash’ will go from strength to strength

From tech nationalism to the dark side of data, the New Year will see the recent pushback against the global industry take on even greater importance.

Digital Politics is a column about the global intersection of technology and the world of politics.

LONDON — When it came to tech, 2018 was a cracker.

Facebook fumbled its way from scandal to scandal. Google was slapped with another record antitrust fine over its Android mobile software. And officials in Brussels, Washington and elsewhere struggled to get their heads around how tech went from a legislative sideshow to the center of policymaking worldwide.

For those hoping the new year will bring respite from this ‘techlash,’ I have bad news: We’ve only just begun.

No matter where you look — from early-stage European Union investigations into Amazon and Facebook to potential federal privacy legislation in the United States — the era of laissez-faire policymaking on tech has come to an end.

Gone are the days when tech was supposed to save the world.

In its place, politicians are taking their battle with Silicon Valley’s biggest names to the next level, while doing all that they can to support domestic digital programs and local startups as the digital economy becomes central to the wider economy.

As 2019 approaches, the list of upcoming regulatory stand-offs feels never-ending.

Facebook (which outmuscled Google this year to become the tech giant everyone loves to hate) faces a slew of regulatory investigations into its Cambridge Analytica scandal, privacy sanctions under Europe’s new data protection rules and its role in the spread of misinformation in elections around the globe.

Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s competition czar, is in a race against time before her tenure ends at the European Commission to complete a series of investigations into many of the world’s largest tech firms. The U.S. Congress — never known for its willingness to regulate tech — is slowing waking up to the fact that it may need to act.

European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager | Mario Cruz/EPA

And from France to the Philippines, lawmakers are fast-tracking new rules aimed at curbing the power of Big Tech. From laws to tackle “fake news” to demands that firms pay more tax into national coffers, policymakers are eagerly trying to rejigger the playing field, all while most of these countries’ voters continue to embrace the latest tech wizardry faster than you can say “Hey, Alexa.”

With so much on deck, it’s easy to miss the big picture. Here are four predictions for 2019 to help guide you through what awaits us next year.

Tech nationalism

Gone are the days when tech was supposed to save the world.

Now, national lawmakers want to know how some of the world’s biggest tech companies are going to help them at home — either through paying more out in taxes (France’s new digital levy on Facebook and Google comes into force on January 1) or by investing in local operations, which can offer both high-tech jobs and digital know-how for countries’ national tech industries.

It doesn’t stop there. Expect to see politicians putting increasingly tough restrictions on who can acquire domestic tech players as the battle for talent, intellectual property and investment ratchets up amid the growing importance of digital industries to countries’ future economic prosperity. That already has started to happen with Germany, the United Kingdom and the U.S. balking at Chinese players scooping up national champions.

Serious cracks are starting to show in people’s faith in Silicon Valley — and those will expand even further.

It’s the start, not the end, of such strategies.

Even as Western allies look to outdo each other on tech, the era of digital cooperation will likely be tested to its limits as governments move to impose national laws on the internet age.

Data as a toxic asset

It’s become a cliché to claim data is the ‘“oil of the 21st century.” But now that Europe’s revamped data protection rules are in full swing (and tens of thousands of complaints have been filed across Europe), this seemingly never-ending pot of digital information is starting to look a lot less appealing — even if it still underpins the online digital advertising industry, or the main cash cow that keeps the digital economy running.

Already, competition authorities are investigating whether the collection of large amounts of information by a few tech firms (Facebook, Google and, increasingly, Amazon dominate the online ad world) could represent unfair competition. The first blockbuster fines under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, will likely be doled out in the second half of 2019.

And with new data breaches and online hacks revealed daily, the vast treasure troves of data that companies now hold on us may soon leave them open to almost limitless regulatory risk.

Public awakening to tech’s ugly side

Last year, I predicted policymakers and consumers would diverge on how they viewed Big Tech, with officials taking a significantly more skeptical line than the tech-mad voters. That held true for most of 2018. But as we head into the New Year, serious cracks are starting to show in people’s faith in Silicon Valley — and those will expand even further amid increasing regulatory pressure on how these firms operate globally.

Will the influx of “fake news” throw an upcoming election in favor of one side or another?

In the U.S., for instance, a recent Pew Research Center study found that while roughly three-quarters of people still believed tech companies and their products had more of a positive impact than a negative one on their own lives, almost one-third of the same individuals now thought these firms had a harmful effect on the wider society.

Sure, that’s not a tidal wave of users running to the door — at least, not yet. But with investors pushing Facebook’s stock price down more than 20 percent this year and people from Lyon to Los Angeles openly questioning the role these players have in their daily lives, the optimistic drumbeat that surrounded the tech industry for years is coming to an end.

Misinformation, on steroids

With both India and the EU heading to the polls in two of the world’s largest-ever elections next May, 2019 marks the biggest test to date for how social media companies and governments worldwide confront digital misinformation. It’s not going to be pretty.

Many policymakers still base their tactics on what happened in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But online tricksters (both those looking to make a quick buck and those backed by foreign governments) haven’t stood still, updating their tactics to keep one step ahead of regulatory and corporate responses. That includes shifting to internet messaging services like WhatsApp (which are almost impossible to police because of built-in encryption standards) and moving to smaller, less protected social media sites like Instagram whose policies aren’t yet robust enough to cope. One word to get to know for 2019: deepfakes, or almost real-life copies of public figures saying the most outrageous things powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Will the influx of “fake news” throw an upcoming election in favor of one side or another? That, unfortunately, is almost impossible to predict. But with the reputations of both politicians and tech players on the line, the failure to clamp down on misinformation, particularly around elections, will only further polarize electorates.

Mark Scott is chief technology correspondent at POLITICO.


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UK defense secretary has ‘grave’ concerns about Huawei 5G involvement

Gavin Williamson says Britain must recognize ‘the Chinese state does sometimes act in a malign way.’

LONDON — A senior U.K. cabinet minister has “grave, very deep concerns” about Chinese company Huawei’s equipment being used on Britain’s 5G network.

Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson told The Times newspaper in an interview published Thursday that Huawei’s involvement should be looked at “closely.”

“We’ve got to look at what partners such as Australia and the U.S. are doing in order to ensure that they have the maximum security of that 5G network and we’ve got to recognize the fact, as has been recently exposed, that the Chinese state does sometimes act in a malign way,” he said in the interview.

It comes after the head of the MI6 intelligence service Alex Younger said the U.K. needed to “decide the extent to which we are going to be comfortable with Chinese ownership of these technologies.”

Reuters reported Thursday that U.S. President Donald Trump is considering an executive order that would bar U.S. companies from using telecommunications equipment made by China’s Huawei and ZTE.


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2018: The year in figures and charts

Telling the story of the last 12 months through data.

What a tremendous, nebulous year.

Very much like last year, 2018 was full of endless Brexit drama. And endless Trump drama. And then there was some more Brexit drama. And some more Trump drama. But hey, other stuff happened too (right?).

The French proved that they are still the global champions of street protests, the far right grabbed headlines across the Continent and Angela Merkel prepared to abdicate.

From politics to climate change, gay rights and technology giants, here are the figures behind the topics that defined 2018.

Eddy Wax contributed reporting.


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Two arrested over Gatwick drone disruption

Draft drone bill delayed as civil servants focus on Brexit, the Times reports.

British police Saturday said they have detained two suspects following drone interference at Gatwick airport that let to partial shutdowns of the U.K.’s second-largest airport.

Sussex police said the arrests, made just after 10 p.m. Friday, form part of an “ongoing investigations into the criminal use of drones which has severely disrupted flights in and out of Gatwick Airport.”

Authorities did not release further details on the two persons arrested.

Drone sightings Wednesday night saw severe disruption to the airport’s activities as flights were suspended for security reasons. Flights resumed Friday morning but were suspended again that afternoon, restarting around 7 p.m. Friday, police said.

The Times Saturday reported that U.K. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling this year ditched plans for a draft bill to regulate drone use and develop technology to prevent them from being used near airports.

The outlet reported the legislation “had been due for publication in the spring, [but] was dropped amid pressures on the department, with civil servants diverted to work on Brexit.”

The British Airline Pilots’ Association said Friday it “remains extremely concerned at the risk of a drone collision,” and had issued advice to pilots on how to respond to a drone sighting.

Gatwick airport said Saturday: “Our runway is open. Passengers are advised to check with their airline before travelling to the airport.”


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WATCH: Grayling on the Gatwick drones shutdown. No suggestion this is a terrorist attack.

“This is a fairly large drone – a commercial-size drone that is clearly being operated deliberately.”

West accuses Beijing of ‘extensive’ cyber espionage

Officials hold Chinese Ministry of State Security responsible for ongoing cyber intrusions.

The United States and the United Kingdom announced an indictment Thursday against state-linked Chinese hackers, in a fresh bid to build an international front against Chinese spying.

The announcement includes U.S. criminal charges against Chinese government hackers accused of stealing American businesses’ intellectual property worth hundreds of billions of dollars. The U.S. also said it holds China’s government accountable for sponsoring economic cyberattacks, including in Europe and Asia.

The activities “go against the commitments made to the U.K. in 2015, and, as part of the G20, not to conduct or support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property or trade secrets,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.

Australia, Canada, Japan and Germany were expected to join the coalition condemning Beijing over hacking, a diplomat said.

The warnings complement a U.S.-driven campaign to convince Western governments to ban Chinese telecom equipment vendors from providing the gear to build 5G networks. In past months, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan have announced new market restrictions on Huawei and ZTE — China’s two leading telecom equipment makers — due to security concerns.

The indictments effectively kill a deal that Obama struck with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015 to limit cyber-espionage activities.

The criminal charges unveiled Thursday target a hacker group that acted on behalf of the Chinese Ministry of State Security and “almost certainly [continue] to target a range of global companies, seeking to gain access to commercial secrets,” the U.K. Foreign Office said in a statement.

Specifically, it charges two Chinese hackers, Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong, of computer hacking, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The document lays out how the hackers had targeted sectors including aviation, space and satellite technology, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, computer processor companies and other sectors from as early as 2006.

The indictment said affected companies were located in at least 12 countries — Sweden, Finland, France, Germany, Switzerland and the U.K. in Europe as well as India, Brazil, Canada, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S.

The hackers used techniques known as “spear phishing,” which targets high-value individuals with mock emails tricking them into downloading malware, which in turn would give hackers remote access to the networks.

Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

Their group performed services as a contractor for the ministry, infiltrating networks to provide intelligence and information. Hackers lurk inside corporate networks for months, even years, before stealing data. The accused group is known as the “advanced persistent threat group 10” (APT10), also known as Cloud Hopper, Menupass and Stone Panda.

A report by consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers released in April 2017 revealed the group’s methods and targets, asserting that it had ramped up its activities in 2016 and targeted industrial manufacturing and engineering sectors in Europe and beyond.

“The group focuses on what we call ‘access operations,’ effectively gaining and holding access until it had a requirement to take data,” said Kris McConkey, cybersecurity partner at PwC. “We’ve seen activity until as late as the summer of 2018. In the last eight to 12 weeks we’ve seen a little less activity.”

The indictments effectively kill a deal that ex-President Barack Obama struck with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015 to limit cyber-espionage activities. Intellectual property theft has long been a source of tension between the U.S. and China, and in September 2015 the two struck a landmark agreement to tone down the cyber intrusions.

“The difference between this initiative and what preceded the deal reached between the U.S. and China in 2015 is that the U.K., Germany and other governments were not as public then as they are now,” said Chris Painter, Obama’s chief cyber diplomat who negotiated the deal, and left the U.S. government under President Donald Trump.

“This joint action, especially with these countries involved, is significant: It is harder for Beijing to ignore,” Painter said.

Attempted coup de grâce

The indictment caps a series of revelations and statements calling out Chinese hacker groups and the Chinese government for violating international agreements and norms on cyber espionage.

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Beijing for the Marriott hack that stole passport data and other information on as many as 500 million people. U.S. officials believe this massive data breach was also part of Beijing’s counterintelligence project. U.S. officials testified before a committee last week at which FBI assistant director Bill Priestap called China “the most severe counterintelligence threat facing our country today.”

The conflict between Washington and Beijing worsened last week when Canadian authorities arrested Huawei’s CFO Sabrina Meng.

In October the U.S. also announced that Belgian authorities had extradited to the U.S. a senior officer at China’s Ministry of State Security to face economic espionage charges, also related to aviation firms.

In parallel, a U.S. cybersecurity company founded by former National Security Agency officials on Tuesday released a disputed report that the EU’s communication system for diplomatic correspondence had been hacked by Chinese hackers linked to the People’s Liberation Army. EU officials are still investigating the incident.

The conflict between Washington and Beijing worsened last week when Canadian authorities arrested Huawei’s chief financial officer, Sabrina Meng, at the request of the U.S. European governments including the U.K., Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic, the European Commission and others are actively exploring ways to shut off parts of the telecom networks for Huawei.

“The U.S. approach to China’s cyber espionage has evolved rapidly over the past six months,” Paul Triolo, a cyber expert at the think-tank Eurasia Group, said earlier. He noted that Washington appears to no longer be settling for indicting Chinese hackers who will probably never show up in an American courtroom — and instead is working with like-minded countries to arrest them.

U.S. President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing in 2017 | Pool photo by Thomas Peter via Getty Images

Thursday’s revelations could lead to sanctions, diplomatic sources said, including measures issued by the European Union as a whole.

EU institutions in the past year have worked out a system to respond to cyber threats with diplomatic measures, ranging from statements to economic sanctions. But the bloc has still yet to name Moscow as being behind cyber operations.

Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania and Great Britain joined the U.S., Australia and Canada in condemning Russia for orchestrating a large-scale attack using malware known as NotPetya.

As attention now shifts to Beijing, the EU would against consider its options in how to respond to the new allegations.

In the case of China, hackers have targeted companies in Australia, Japan and Europe, Adam Segal and Lorand Laskai of the Council on Foreign Relations pointed out.

“If other countries are involved, it makes it look more like China is standing outside international norms,” Segal told POLITICO earlier.

Eric Geller and Michael B. Farrell contributed to this article.


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