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Mon, 13 July 2020

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Boris Johnson greenlights Huawei for UK's 5G network despite furious Tory and US backlash

Boris Johnson greenlights Huawei for UK's 5G network despite furious Tory and US backlash
4 min read

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei will be allowed to run "non-core" parts of the UK's 5G network despite a string of concerns from Tory MPs and the United States, it has been confirmed.

Following a meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday, ministers gave the go-ahead for the provider to help build the high speed communications link.

But the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has promised to exclude the firm "from all safety related and safety critical networks" in a bid to calm security fears from senior Conservatives and the United States government.

The move comes after a long-running review of the UK's telecoms supply chain, with ministers insisting that the Chinese firm and other "high risk vendors" would not be granted access to more than 35% of the "non-sensitive" parts of the network.

In a statement, Culture Secretary Baroness Morgan said:  "We want world-class connectivity as soon as possible but this must not be at the expense of our national security. High risk vendors never have been and never will be in our most sensitive networks

"The Government has reviewed the supply chain for telecoms networks and concluded today it is necessary to have tight restrictions on the presence of high risk vendors.

"This is a UK-specific solution for UK-specific reasons and the decision deals with the challenges we face right now."

The Cabinet minister added: "It not only paves the way for secure and resilient networks, with our sovereignty over data protected, but it also builds on our strategy to develop a diversity of suppliers. We can now move forward and seize the huge opportunities of 21st century technology."

The descision has already been welcomed by Huawei, with the firm's vice-president Victor Zhang saying: "Huawei is reassured by the UK government's confirmaiton that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll-out on track.

"This evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future."

And he added: "It gives the UK access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market."


But the move is likely to trigger a fresh backlash from Tory backbenchers, who cautioned against allowing Huawei to play a role in the network in the Commons on Monday.

Tom Tugendhat, seen as the frontrunner to chair Parliament's powerful Foreign Affairs Committee, said ministers would be letting the Chinese government "nest a dragon" in the UK's 5G network if they approved the decision.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said it was "utterly bizarre" that Britain would consider allowing the company - which has consistently denied having links to the Chinese state - to play a part in the network at a time when the UK faces a string of cyber threats.

And Bob Seely, who is also vying to chair the Foreign Affairs Committee, warned: "Whoever controls 5G will affect significantly our rule of law, our data privacy, our security and our freedom to support our allies."

The decision has also been the subject of fierce lobbying from the United States, with three Republican senators urging the National Security Council not to approve the provider.

According to the Washington Post, senators Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton and John Cornyn said: "This letter represents a genuine plea from one ally to another. We do not want to feed post-Brexit anxieties by threatening a potential US-UK free trade agreement when it comes to congress for approval. Nor would we want to have to review US-UK intelligence sharing.

"The facts on Huawei are clear. We hope that your government will make the right decision and reject Huawei’s inclusion in its 5G infrastructure."

But the UK Government has downplayed the risk posed by the firm, arguing that the US has not suggested an alternative vendor and pointing out that Huawei has been involved in the country's communications infrastructure for 15 years.

Officials also argue that any security risk can be managed by the UK's National Security Council.

DCMS on Tuesday insisted the conclusions of its review would "allow us to mitigate the potential risk posed by the supply chain and to combat the range of threats, whether cyber criminals, or state sponsored attacks".

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