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Mon, 6 April 2020

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Boris Johnson set to confirm Huawei's 5G role despite Tory backlash and US anger

Boris Johnson set to confirm Huawei's 5G role despite Tory backlash and US anger
3 min read

Boris Johnson will chair a crucial meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday amid signs he will press ahead with a controversial decision to award Huawei a role in the UK's 5G network.

The NSC - which brings together key ministers and officials to make major national security calls - will decide whether or not to allow the Chinese telecoms firm to run parts of the high-speed link.

Such a move could spark an angry backlash from the United States, which has been lobbying against it on security grounds, as well as some senior Conservative MPs, who lined up in the Commons on Monday to denounce the firm.

Speaking ahead of the meeting on Monday evening, Mr Johnson said deciding on the future of 5G could offer a "very very important strategic win for the UK".

He said: "The way forward for us clearly is to have a system that delivers for people in this country - the kind of consumer benefits that they want through 5G technology or whatever - but does not, in any way, compromise our critical national infrastructure, our security, or jeopardise our ability to work together with other intelligence powers around the world."

And the Prime Minister vowed: "We're going to come up with a solution that enables us to achieve both those objectives and that's the way forward."

But there were strong words for the Government from its own backbenches on Monday as 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.

The MP for Tonbridge and Malling said: "I hope the minister will see the concern that this whole House feels towards Huawei and the idea we should be nesting that dragon, the idea we should be allowing the fox into the hen house when really we should be guarding the wire, is one of those moments where I hope the minister will see his responsibility very clearly."

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 demanded to know why there had been "so little parliamentary debate on this issue".

The Isle of Wight MP warned: "Whoever controls 5G will affect significantly our rule of law, our data privacy, our security and our freedom to support our allies."

Tory critics of the move have meanwhile been bolstered by the support of Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, who will travel to London later this week after a high-profile push by American officials to stop Huawei being handed a role in the network.

But the UK Government has pushed back, 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.

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