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Mon, 13 July 2020

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Don't let Huawei 'nest a dragon' in UK's 5G network, Tory MPs warn ministers

Don't let Huawei 'nest a dragon' in UK's 5G network, Tory MPs warn ministers
5 min read

Ministers would be letting the Chinese government "nest a dragon" in the UK's 5G network if they press ahead with a decision to let Huawei help run it, Tory MPs have warned.

Tom Tugendhat, seen as the frontrunner to chair Parliament's powerful Foreign Affairs Committee, led criticism of the Government amid warnings from the United States that Huawei could pose a security risk to the UK's high-speed communications link.

The blue-on-blue attacks came ahead of a crucial meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday at which ministers are widely expected to give the go-ahead to the Chinese technology firm running 'non-core' parts of the 5G network.

But Tory MPs including Mr Tugendhat, former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and the Isle of Wight's Bob Seely - also running to chair the Foreign Affairs Committee - mounted a last-ditch effort to stop the move during an Urgent Question in the Commons on Monday.

Mr Tugendhat said: "Tomorrow a decision will be made that we will not have any further say on because of course any decision that is made will nest a dragon into a critical national infrastructure or not. And that decision will not be one that is reversible by a future government with any ease at all.

"This will be a decision we will live with for the next 10, 15 or 20 years - that is why this question is so urgent."

The MP for Tonbridge and Malling added: "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."

Sir Iain, a former Cabinet minister, 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 he urged ministers to "reject Huawei immediately".

“Given the fact we are at war in a sense - there is a cyber war going on which China is arguably the single biggest participant - that we should think about giving a company which is heavily subsidised by China, a country that has set out to steal data, non-stop and also technology, that we think of giving to them that right to be in what is essentially a very, very delicate area of our technology, the idea that we would do that seems to me utterly bizarre," he said.

And Mr Seely - who last year co-authored a report arguing that security assurances received by the Government on Huawei were "insufficiently robust" - also stepped up his attack, demanding to know why there had been "so little parliamentary debate on this issue".

He asked: "Why is it said that the risks are manageable when our allies say not? Why have previous ministers claimed that Huawei is a private firm when in no way is that true? Why are we told there are no alternatives when there are? ... Why do we need high risk vendors in our network at all?

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."

Conservative MP Julian Lewis meanwhile urged ministers to allow Parliament's own Intelligence and Security Committee to carry out an "in-depth study" of the firm to try and ensure a "robust, rigorous and resilient solution" could be found


Pushing back, digital minister Matt Warman insisted the Government would "never take a decision that threatens our national security or the security of our allies".

He added: "The National Security Council will meet tomorrow to discuss these issues. This work is an important step in strengthening the UK’s security frameworks for telecoms and ensuring the rollout of 5G and full fibre networks.

"I know that honourable members from all sides of the House feel strongly about this issue and this Government will make a statement to this House to communicate final decisions on high-risk vendors at the appropriate time. We will always put national security at the top of our agenda.”

The news came as Downing Street confirmed that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - who has urged the UK to think again on Huawei - will hold face-to-face talks with Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab later this week.

Although Number 10 would not confirm whether Huawei would be on the agenda, Mr Pompeo has already warned Britain not to allow the Chinese telecoms firm - which it accuses of having close links to the country's government - to run key parts of the high-speed network.

But the UK Government has pushed back, arguing that the US has not suggested an alternative provide and pointing out that Huawei has been working with the country's communications architecture for 15 years.

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

But Mr Pompeo on Sunday threw his weight behind Mr Tugendhat after the Tory MP tweeted: "Sovereignty means control of data as much as land. We need to decide what we’re willing to invest in and who were willing to share our tech with. The real costs will come later if we get this wrong and allow Huawei to run 5G."


Labour has also been critical of the Government's handling of the Huawei issue, with Shadow Culture Secretary Tracy Brabin saying she was "deeply dismayed" that Boris Johnson had not come to the Commons to answer Monday's Commons question in person.

She asked: "Can the minister confirm that the Prime Minister will take full responsibility for any decision reached at tomorrow's National Security Council meeting and not seek to hide behind his ministers or the civil service?

"Any decision to allow Huawei's involvement in building our 5G network will require concrete assurances about the integrity and safety of the network."

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