Boris Johnson Defies Trump By Giving Huawei Limited Role In UK’s 5G Networks

·4-min read

Boris Johnson has approved plans to allow Chinese telecoms firm Huawei a role in building the UK’s 5G phone and data network.

Despite huge pressure from Donald Trump to ban the company amid spying fears, the British government’s National Security Council decided on Tuesday to give it limited access to the new hi-tech infrastructure.

In an effort to contain a row with the White House, the UK has come up with a compromise where Huawei will have a 35% cap on its market share in the new technology.

Washington has repeatedly warned that the Beijing-based firm poses a security risk and any access to Britain’s 5G would put in jeopardy US-UK intelligence sharing - and possibly any post-Brexit trade deal.

Britain’s most senior intelligence officials believe that they can manage any risk posed by Huawei, which has played a role in the UK’s 3G and 4G networks for more than a decade.

But Liz Cheney, the third most senior Republican in the US House of Representatives, said Johnson had “chosen the surveillance state over the special relationship”.

Senator Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential candidate, also criticised the British decision.

MI5 chief Sir Andrew Parker and GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre have advised ministers that there will be no extra threat if Huawei’s role is restricted to non-core parts of Britain’s new mobile network.

Non-core equipment refers to the antennas and base stations that sit on masts and rooftops, considered less vulnerable than the core servers and systems where customer information is processed.

With only two other companies, Sony Ericsson and Nokia, able to provide the necessary equipment and expertise for 5G in the UK, senior government insiders believe that excluding Huawei would cost billions more and impose serious delays on the technology rollout.

Victor Zhang, Huawei’s vice president, said: “Huawei is reassured by the UK government’s confirmation 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. It gives the UK access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market.”

Ciaran Martin, the chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre, said the decision would ensure the UK had a “strong, practical and technically sound framework for digital security in the years ahead”.

“High risk vendors have never been – and never will be – in our most sensitive networks,” he said.

“Taken together these measures add up to a very strong framework for digital security.”

Several American senators and members of congress have warned that failing to ban Huawei, as Australia and New Zealand have, could lead to repercussions in crucial trade talks between the US and UK.

Cabinet ministers including defence secretary Ben Wallace and home secretary Priti Patel have privately expressed concerns about Huawei.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes members of the Chinese community at 10 Downing Street, London, in celebration of the Chinese New Year. (Photo: PA Wire/PA Images)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes members of the Chinese community at 10 Downing Street, London, in celebration of the Chinese New Year. (Photo: PA Wire/PA Images)

Defending the decision, Nicky Morgan, the digital secretary, said she wanted the UK to have “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,” she said.

“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.

“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.”

A senior Whitehall source said: “We are clear-eyed about the challenge posed by Huawei.”

They said: “Our world leading cyber security experts know more about Huawei than any country on earth, and are satisfied that any risk can be managed.

“A market failure has left us in this position. We agree we must urgently diversity the market and are working on a strategy to achieve this.

“We want to get to the position where we don’t have to use a high risk vendor in our network.”

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith suggested on Monday he had been “led to believe” by the PM that the UK would not go ahead with the Chinese firm’s new access.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.