Boris Johnson majority cut to 24 as PM suffers embarrassing revolt as Tory MPs vote to end Huawei involvement in 5G network

Thirty six rebels refuse to step into line – staging show of strength ahead of summer showdown they are increasingly confident of winning

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 10 March 2020 17:00
Comments
Government wins vote over plans to allow Huawei to be used in the UK's 5G mobile network

Boris Johnson has suffered his first damaging backbench revolt since his election triumph, as Tory MPs demanded an end to Huawei's involvement in Britain's 5G network.

Thirty six rebels refused to bow to pressure to step into line – staging a show of strength ahead of another showdown in the summer they are increasingly confident of winning.

The prime minister won the vote, but a government minister immediately hinted at future concessions, saying their message had been “heard loud and clear”.

Iain Duncan Smith led the revolt, joining fellow former Cabinet heavyweights Damian Green, David Davis, Liam Fox and Owen Paterson in demanding a rethink.

They fear Huawei is effectively a front for the Chinese state – putting the UK’s security at risk – and want it ripped out of the 5G network by the end of 2022.

Ministers refused to put a date on their aspiration to weed out what they admit is “a high risk vendor” and supposed concessions offered on the Commons floor fell flat.

“This country has got itself far too bound into a process in which we are reliant on untrusted vendors and in this particular case, Huawei,” Mr Duncan Smith told ministers.

“This company is not a private company. It ends up being essentially almost completely owned by Chinese trade unions and they, of course, are exactly locked into the Chinese government. This is a Chinese wholly-owned organisation.”

Last month, the embrace of Huawei provoked a diplomatic bust-up with Australia, while Donald Trump has lashed out at Mr Johnson for refusing to think again.

“We have no friends out there anymore on this issue. Whether it's the Canadians, the Americans, the Australians, the New Zealanders, they all disagree with us,” Mr Duncan Smith added.

The government defeated an amendment to the telecommunications infrastructure bill by 306 votes to 282, a majority of 24 – slashing the prime minister’s normal working majority from 87.

Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, failed to placate the rebels by promising to bring forward a full Bill before the summer to allow further scrutiny of the building of the 5G network.

He also promised greater oversight by the National Cyber Security Centre and to speed up the process of lowering Huawei’s involvement from the proposed cap of 35 per cent.

After the revolt, Mr Dowden said: “The government has heard loud and clear on the points made in all sides of the House. We will now engage intensively with colleagues.”

Bob Seeley, one of the rebels, tweeted he was “surprised” by the number of Tories who defied the whip, saying: “It was a strong first showing.”

The US president’s anger over Huawei has already been blamed for the prime minister shelving a planned trip to the White House and for a likely delay to trade talks.

Australia, like Washington, has banned the Chinese telecommunications giant from building its next-generation 5G mobile internet networks, but Britain ignored pressure to do the same.

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