Uncertainty over Huawei 5G damaging Britain’s global standing, warns intelligence committee

Kim Sengupta

Failure to officially announce whether the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei would be allowed into this country’s 5G network is damaging the UK’s international relationships, and a decision needs to be made on the issue as a matter of urgency, according to the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee.

The committee stresses that the decision is not just a technical one but one that is geostrategic, and Britain must not do anything that damages intelligence sharing with its “Five Eyes” partners – US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The Trump administration has been pressing the UK to block the involvement of Huawei because of its links with the Beijing government and warned that the exchange of secret and sensitive information may be at risk if the government went ahead and allowed the Chinese company entry. The other three countries have brought in varying degrees of restrictions on Huawei.

Theresa May is reported to have pressed through the inclusion of Huawei in the UK telecoms infrastructure at a meeting of the National Security Council two months ago. Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, was subsequently sacked for allegedly leaking the decision to the media.

However no formal announcement has been made on the decision.

Committee chairman Dominic Grieve said: “The debate over whether or not Huawei should be allowed to supply equipment to the UK 5G network has dragged on long enough and is damaging the UK’s international relationships. The new prime minister must take a decision as a matter of priority.”

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) stated: “The UK is keen for a strong economic relationship with China. But this is not a ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ China debate. China will continue to be a key partner for the UK: one we respect greatly”.

But, it continued: “The UK must not do anything that jeopardises the Five Eyes intelligence sharing relationship – the value of the partnership cannot be overstated.

“Looking to the future, we must take action to reduce our over-reliance on a Chinese technology. We need to consider how we can create greater diversity in the market. This will require us to take a long-term view – but we need to start now.

“In terms of the immediate issue, restricting those companies who may be involved in our 5G network will have consequences, both in terms of time and cost. And the government must weigh these, together with the security advice that any risk posed could be managed in a secure system, against the geostrategic issues outlined.

“It is important to take the right decision, and take it we must: this debate has been unnecessarily protracted ... The new prime minister will no doubt have many issues to deal with in his first days in office. Nevertheless, this committee urges him to take a decision on which companies will be involved in our 5G network, so that all concerned can move forward.”