Dominic Raab fends off Tory Huawei attacks after ministers give thumbs-up to 5G bid
Dominic Raab has been forced to defend the Government from its own backbenchers after ministers controversially allowed Chinese firm Huawei to help set up the UK’s 5G network.
The Foreign Secretary fended off Commons attacks from a string of senior Tories and insisted the move was "completely consistent with the UK’s security needs" after the National Security Council gave the go-ahead for the provider to help build the country’s new high speed communications link.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has promised to exclude the firm - which it has deemed a “high risk vendor” - from all “safety related and safety critical networks" in a bid to calm security fears from senior Tories and the United States government.
The call comes after a major review of the UK's telecoms supply chain, with ministers stressing that the Chinese firm would not be granted access to more than 35% of the "non-sensitive" parts of the network.
It has already been welcomed by Huawei, with the firm's vice-president Victor Zhang saying the “evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future”.
But Conservative MPs lined up to question the decision in a stormy House of Commons session on Tuesday.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis called for Huawei to be "banned from our networks".
"Even if it were not an arm of the Chinese government, the 2017 law requires it to take instruction from the Chinese intelligence agency and in the future, the size and complexity of the problem we are trying to protect against is enormous," he said.
And Penny Mordaunt, who served as defence secretary until last year branded the decision "regrettable".
"I understand the restrictions of high-risk vendors to non-core. But...excluding high-risk vendors from any provision is one way we can encourage companies and states who do not operate under international norms and business standards.
"That is why this decision is regrettable. Would he agree with me that this country must never find itself in this position ever again?"
Ex-Cabinet minister Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of the Conservative party, meanwhile said he was "deeply disappointed" in the decision and urged the Foreign Secretary to "drive Huawei out of our systems progressively as quickly as he can".
But Mr Raab said: “Nothing in this review affects this country’s ability to share highly sensitive intelligence data over highly secure networks both within the UK and with our partners - including the Five Eyes [intelligence partnership].
“GCHQ have categorically confirmed that how we construct our 5G and full-fibre public telecoms network has nothing to do with how we share classified data, and the UK’s technical security experts have agreed that the new controls on high risk vendors are completely consistent with the UK’s security needs.”
That view was backed by former prime minister Theresa May, whose government provisionally approved the decision to allow Huawei to be involved in the setting up of the network.
The Maidenhead MP told the Commons: "I commend the Government for taking a decision that protects our national security but also recognises the interests of our economy, that is right for the UK because it recognises the construction of our networks and our capabilities and gives us the toughest regime in the world.
"My Right Honourable Friend has already referenced the fact that we have never had had, and never will have, high-risk vendors in our most sensitive networks and that this decision has no effect on our ability to share intelligence with our allies."
The 5G decision has however been the subject of intense lobbying from the United States, which has already banned the firm from its own public infrastructure projects.
Three Republican senators on Tuesday urged the National Security Council not to approve the provider, with Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton and John Cornyn saying such a move could force the US to “review US-UK intelligence sharing”.
“We hope that your government will make the right decision and reject Huawei’s inclusion in its 5G infrastructure," the trio warned.
But the UK Government has argued that the US has not suggested an alternative vendor and pointed out that Huawei has been involved in the country's communications infrastructure for 15 years.
Labour said ministers had "refused to take our technological sovereignty seriously" as the Opposition party condemned the decision.
Shadow Culture Secretary Tracy Brabin added: "As a result they're in the ludicrous position of having to choose between the UK’s security concerns and our infrastructure needs.
“Despite years of dithering, the Government still can’t tell us how it will restrict Huawei’s access to sensitive parts of the network.
"It must now give specific reassurances to workers and businesses that a 35 per cent market cap will not stop 5G becoming widely available by 2027, as planned – and that it will support communities whose access to 5G will be delayed by this decision."