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Thu, 3 December 2020

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Boris Johnson suffers major Tory rebellion over Huawei role in UK's 5G network

Boris Johnson suffers major Tory rebellion over Huawei role in UK's 5G network
3 min read

Boris Johnson has suffered a major backbench rebellion over the Government's plans to give Huawei a role in the UK's 5G network.


In a huge blow for the Prime Minister, 36 Tory MPs voted for an amendment which would ban the Chinese telecommunications firm's involvement after 2022.

They included former party leader Iain Duncan Smith, and ex-Cabinet ministers David Davis, Liam Fox, Owen Paterson and Damian Green.

In a Commons debate, a succession of Conservative rebels made clear their opposition to the Government's position on security grounds.

Mr Johnson announced in January that Huawei - which has been accused of working with the Chinese government - would be given a role in Britain's 5G supply, despite being classified as a "high risk vendor".

America, which has banned Huawei from its own network over security concerns, has condmned the move, alongwith the likes of Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Ministers have capped the company's involvement in the 5G project at 35%, but the Tory rebels want that reduced to zero by 31 December, 2022.

In a bid to head off the rebellion, the Government organised a briefing for Tory MPs with security officials on Monday evening to try and convince them that Huawei does not pose a security risk to the UK.

But Mr Duncan Smith said: "We are concerned that this country has got itself far too bound in to a process in which we are too reliant on untrusted vendors, and in this partocular case - Huawei.

"This company is not a private company, it is almost completely owned by Chinese trade unions who are locked in to the Chinese government."

He added: "The reality is that if it comes to security versus cost, in my view security wins every single time. I worry when we start compromising security. We have no friends out there any more on this issue, whether it’s the Canadians, Aericans, Australians or New Zealanders.

"No matter how intelligent, brilliant and great our security services are, how is it that they are right and everybody else is wrong? We are alone on this matter and I think that is a very bad place to be when it comes to security."

Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox said: "This idea that we must have Huawei because there is no alternative is simply untrue. What is wrong with the UK having to wait a little longer to get 5G that gives us security in the long-term? So what if it costs any more? That cost in money is much less than the cost to national security."

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the Government was "clear-eyed about the challenges posed by Huawei", and would work to reduce its involvement in the UK network from 35% as soon as possible.

But his words were not enough to persuade the rebels not to vote against the Government.

After the vote, digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman said: "The Government has heard loud and clear the points made on all sides of the House.

"As we move towards the Telecoms Security Bill, we will now engage intensively with colleagues across the House to make sure that we make our case at every possible level... and we will underline that we will always put national security at the very top of our agenda."

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